Now entirely emptied of its contents save for visitors, Sehgal's exhibition at the Guggenheim consists of two pieces: The Kiss, a performance in which two people make out in slow motion in the rotunda space, and This Progress, an experiential work that takes place on the ramps of the museum. There's a little too much this-is-a-really-important-kiss-because-it's-deliberate-art feel to the former, but Sehgal's primary piece boasts a few more memorable moments. The most enjoyable part of The Kiss was witnessing a one-year-old baby frantically crawling toward the performers as though it wanted to participate. A parent intervened, and that was the end of that.
The show's centerpiece, This Progress, begins at the foot the museum's rotunda with a small girl asking your definition of progress, and ends with at the top of the ramp with a middle-aged person talking abstractly about the concept. In short, volunteers discussing the idea of progress guide a visitor's entire walk through the museum. The physical representation of this idea seemed rather elegant as I walked up the ramp with my tour guide, though that assessment only held true so long as I didn't think about it at great length. It is, after all, an awfully simplistic representation of a complex idea.
During my walking tour, I told the little girl at the beginning that progress probably had something to do with development. "At one point, we didn't have toasters, now we do." I worried this was a dumb answer—but then, what was the likelihood that a child no older than seven was going to know the difference? I didn't bother mentioning that progress, as far as I'd defined it, was wholly connected to family legacy: my great-grandfather invented the toaster for Westinghouse in 1910.
When the little girl passed me off to the next docent, she explained to a 15-year-old girl that I thought progress was technological innovation. I was impressed with her summary. The teenager was not. "We're stuck to our cell phones," she told me hotly. I had a slightly more practical take on the matter, having gone through high school without one. "But if our car breaks down, we can call someone to help us," I started. I only got about half way into this rebuttal before a man a little older than myself interrupted and began discussing nostalgia.
One more docent walked with me after this, but by this time I was mildly annoyed for having my conversations interrupted. Why did Tino Sehgal get to dictate the terms of my progress? Was progress nothing but a constructed story he'd taken the liberty to choreograph himself?
I took the tour again, determined to draw further meaning out of the work. A different, still younger child greeted me this time. "What do you think progress is?" she chirped. I wasn't sure she would like my thoughts on the matter, so I asked her what she thought. The girl smiled, drew a deep breath, and recited a line, "I'm really more interested in what you have to say."
"Fuck Tino Sehgal" I thought. Good art is supposed to challenge the viewer, but I wasn't sure I liked the results. "It doesn't exist" I conceded. "It's just a story we tell ourselves so we can function in the world." Thankfully, she didn't understand.