Animal Collective's Offbeat Art Project Comes to the Guggenheim

March 5, 2010 10:37 AM ET

Boundary-pushing avant-indie crew Animal Collective and video artist Danny Perez took over the iconic rotunda of New York's Guggenheim Museum last night, bringing their signature weirdness to a capacity audience of 1,500 people. Billed as an "immersive environment for visitors to come and go through," the unique performance titled Transverse Temporal Gyrus was part rock concert, part art installation, part hang-out session, and part Night at the Museum, where wild things come to life after the sun goes down.

The piece was a mix of Matthew Barney and Wicker Man, as three of the four members of Animal Collective — Avey Tare, Deakin and Geologist — stood nearly motionless for three hours in the center of the room, guarding glowing video orbs and donning black robes, white gloves and creep-tastic white bunny masks. A pool of glass stalagmites jetted upwards, a puffy 8-foot-tall mountain stood menacingly in the background and Perez's epileptic video art flickered up the rotunda, whose walls were absent of any other art. A 36-speaker system cycled a series of drones reminiscent of the VHS horror films that Animal Collective sites as an early influence — swirling masses of surround-sound gurgles, moans, static, squawks and terror-noise.

After being let in at 9 pm, the crowd started off confused — "Do you think something is gonna happen" was one comment overheard. But once the absorbed the piece's ambient embrace and gloriously disorienting soundwork, the gallery quickly turned into a wild party. Two people snuck behind the couch-like mountain to cuddle, and soon, tons of spectators were climbing up it like a puffy jungle gym. Two guys in animal masks spazzed out wildly while other people just crashed on the floor; people joyously snarfed Pernod absinthe cocktails; one eager fan unsuccessfully tried to start "a Guggenheim wave" to corkscrew up the gallery; a thick puddle of barf was spotted in the unisex bathroom.

Artist Perez was on hand, doing live video mixing about three floors up, dressed in a striped tee and twiddling a mixer with an alien sticker affixed to the center. He said the mountain in the center of the room was the biggest thing his crew had ever made, taking a team of six to eight people three days to create. Of the face-painted fans bouncing on it, he says, "That's cool if they want to. It's foam, no shame." Perez was offered the Guggenheim gig on January 29th, and had been working every day since, figuring out a 36-speaker system "designed to create the sensation of enveloping you" and nabbing H.R. Giger's glass guy to make the craggy spikes. "I'm definitely ready to collapse," says Perez.

Tireless as usual, however, were the hardcore Animal Collective fans. A pack of 20 or so ran up and down the rotunda, whooping, hollering and caterwauling in a feral pack as a guard trailed them. Many arrived sporting Technicolor bursts of tribal paint on their faces. "We wanted something to do in the car," said Sarah, an 18-year-old Vassar student whose face was dotted with multi-color streaks of water color pencil. Lena, an 18-year-old literary studies major at the New School arrived with thick white outlines circling her eyes and temple. "People have been commenting as they've been walking by, but I'm not here for other people, I'm here for the show."

The Guggenheim performance follows Tuesday's New York premier of Oddsac, Animal Collective and Perez's long-awaited "video album." As reported in our in-depth interview with Perez and Avey Tare, the 53-minute piece is a mix of Stan Brakhage's fluttery edit work and haunting imagery, a fantastic jumble of sad vampires, whirling fireballs, killer marshmallows, flaming heads, glittered faces, a sexy hipster food fight, and a closing number as good as anything on their universally acclaimed Merriweather Post Pavillion. At the screening, the audience laughed at little kid cameos and energetically bobbed in their seats to the new songs. Perez and three-fourths of the band showed up for a Q&A that was partially gushing (one eager fan tried to give them his EP), part confrontational (one woman tried to infer call their casting as sexist) and mostly reverential. When the elusive Deakin was asked if he would be part of their next project, he replied, "I don't know what the next project is. Sorry to be evasive, but that's the answer."

Related Stories:
Behind Animal Collective's Film Oddsac: Fire, Cults and Glitter
Animal Collective Premiere Trippy "Brother Sport" Video

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