That Werner Herzog film in the Whitney Biennial sure is a stinker. For those who haven’t seen his Hearsay of the Soul yet, the installation combines five screens of footage that slowly pan over the landscape etchings of Dutch artist Hercules Segers (1589) with the music of Dutch cellist and composer Ernst Reijseger. Reijseger appears on screen playing periodically, as if in a trance, as does a pianist.
The press response has been almost entirely positive. New York Magazine’s Jerry Saltz calls the installation “ravishing“, and New York Times critic Roberta Smith actually went so far as to dare viewers “not to cry” (somehow I managed). Meanwhile, Emily Nathan at ArtNet called it hypnotic and enchanting, Kyle Chayka at ArtInfo wrote that it was “awesome” and “sublime”, and Time Out’s Howard Halle simply described the work as undeniably “beautiful“. Other phrases thrown around the blogosphere include “arresting“, “you are in a cathedral experiencing the divine“, and my personal favorite, a “place for stoners“.
Get a grip, people. Art doesn’t need all these bells and whistles. The whole score reads like a device to support the footage, a crutch that wouldn’t be necessary if the original work were simply hung. Also, anyone who watched Herzog’s tedious two-hour documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams last summer will recognize the music, as it’s exactly the same. I left with the impression that the director had some footage left over from that film, and figured he’d find something old and art-like, and overlay the two. I’m just glad the piece wasn’t offered in 3D.