A spectacularly simple idea makes for a spectacular 24-hour film, a work as strong and strange as Warhol’s Empire, and something one of our local museums ought to buy and place on permanent mesmerizing view as soon as possible. In The Clock, the ever-resourceful sampling master and pioneer turntablist Christian Marclay mixes thousands of snippets from films depicting the passage of time -- every minute of the day. Clocks and watches, digital and analog, people speaking the hour, are all combined and presented in real time so that when you see a clock reading, say, 2:22 am from an Alfred Hitchcock film, that’s the actual hour in the real world. But this is much more than about a montage of films-clips depicting time -- although as a Swiss artist I cannot think of another work since the Swiss duo’s Fischl-Weiss’ tremendous The Way Things Go that so captures the Swiss penchant for the unspooling of and the keeping track of time.
Marclay creates a mesmerizing contrapuntal tapestry of narrative, precious moments, banal nothings, suspense and mystery. At the same time there’s an abstract aural symphony of interwoven sound, music, speaking parts, tonalities, static rattles and other things that go bump in the night. All this creates addictive audio-visual-conceptual rhythms. On Fridays, at Paula Cooper Gallery, where The Clock is screened during regular gallery hours, there are continuous 24-hour screenings. At midnight the place is packed as the clock strikes 12:00. I’m told things get really strange around 5:30 am, when, as Marclay has observed, "Not much happens between 5:00 and 5:30 am in the movies. That’s the time when we dream the most. . . so there are a lot of dream sequences." What a fabulous AP this film would be; Click on the time and get The Clock.
Marclay’s The Clock is an elliptically thrilling, endlessly enticing, must-see masterpiece.
Christian Marclay, "The Clock," Jan. 21-Feb. 19, 2011, at Paula Cooper Gallery, 534 West 21st Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.
JERRY SALTZ is art critic for New York magazine, where this essay first appeared. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.