The Clock: Meditating on the Concept of Time

By Peter Zimonjic, NGC Staff on February 13, 2015

  

Christian Marclay, The Clock (2010), single channel video, duration: 24 hours. Purchased 2011 with the generous support of Jay Smith and Laura Rapp, and Carol and Morton Rapp, Toronto. Jointly owned by the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston © the artist. Photo: Ben Westoby. Courtesy White Cube

One of the National Gallery of Canada's primary raisons d'être is building a collection that stands the test of time. And, while it is difficult to discern which works from a collection will be lauded a century or two from now, curators of contemporary art acquire works that make waves in the art world right now, with the conviction that these works will continue to do so for many years to come. Christian Marclay’s The Clock is one such work. A masterpiece of contemporary art, this 24-hour video installation has made headlines around the world wherever it has been exhibited, winning Marclay a Golden Lion for best artist at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

The Gallery’s Director, and a number of its curators, first saw The Clock when it debuted at London's White Cube Gallery. They instantly recognized it as a special work that would fit well within the Gallery's collection of contemporary art — specifically, its acclaimed holdings of major video installations. This did not, however, mean that acquiring the work for the National Gallery of Canada’s collection was a foregone conclusion.

“Some works of art — especially contemporary ones by well-known artists — can be in extremely high demand,” says Jonathan Shaughnessy, the Gallery’s Associate Curator of Contemporary Art. “In fact, it’s not as easy as people might think to go from wanting to acquire something because we think it’s important for the collection, to actually being able to purchase it. As you can imagine, this might sometimes be the case with an especially coveted painting or sculpture, where there might be only one available, and many in line to try to purchase it. In the case of The Clock, there were several editions of the work, yet still the artist’s dealers found themselves struggling to meet demand. Immediately, a number of major international collections came forward to try and reserve The Clock for their collections.”

  

Christian Marclay, The Clock (2010), single channel video, duration: 24 hours. Purchased 2011 with the generous support of Jay Smith and Laura Rapp, and Carol and Morton Rapp, Toronto. Jointly owned by the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston © the artist. Courtesy White Cube, London and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

The Clock is a 24-hour video installation made up of film clips that reference time. Thousands of scenes depicting wristwatches, clocktowers, sundials, alarm clocks, countdowns, and snatches of dialogue where time is mentioned, have been edited together to mark every minute of the day. Viewers will recognize famous Hollywood actors and classic moments in film, spanning the history of cinema from the Golden Age onwards, including examples of European film noir, art-house films, and mainstream productions from Japan to Bollywood. The key to The Clock is that it is in fact a timepiece that runs in sync with the exact time of day where it is being viewed. All told, The Clock is an extraordinary production that plays with the conventions of film, in order to visually manifest the a priori concept of time through its very lens.

When the work came up for sale, The Clock was in such high demand that some institutions brokered deals to share ownership. The Tate Modern in London shares its copy with both the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. A contract between custodial partners ensures that no two (or even three) co-owners can exhibit the work at the same time. The National Gallery of Canada’s copy is shared with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston — an agreement that was made possible through the financial support of distinguished Toronto patrons Jay Smith and Laura Rapp, and Carol and Morton Rapp. The final part of the acquisition puzzle came by way of assurances to the artist, and his galleries, that the work was going to one of the best homes possible.

 

Christian Marclay, The Clock (2010), single channel video, duration: 24 hours. Purchased 2011 with the generous support of Jay Smith and Laura Rapp, and Carol and Morton Rapp, Toronto. Jointly owned by the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston © the artist. Courtesy White Cube, London and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

“There are collections that specialize in certain areas, and there are places where some works of art might go, instead of others, based on a museum’s reputation and the strengths of its holdings,” says Shaughnessy. “So, while it is great for a work like The Clock to be a part of any major collection, what was apparent during the acquisition process in this case was that the National Gallery of Canada has become known, through a number of the purchases that we’ve made over the past decade or more, as an institution that has carved out a first-rate collection of video and media installations by both Canadian and international artists. It meant a lot to be able to say that a special work like The Clock, were it to become part of the NGC's holdings, would stand beside exemplary works by other highly-acclaimed artists known for working with the contemporary mediums of film and video.”

Other notable video and moving image works in the Gallery’s collection include Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s two-channel tour de force Zidane, a 20th-Century Portrait (2006); Candice Breitz’s super-edit of Jack Nicholson’s and Meryl Streep’s filmography in Him + Her (2008); and Beijing-based artist Yang Fudong’s epic five-part 35mm film transfer to video, Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest (2007). A longer list, still by no means exhaustive, would also include pieces by Yael Bartana, Phil Collins, Ragnar Kjartansson, Eija Liisa Ahtila, Pierre Huyghe, Steve McQueen, Artur Zmijewski, Christian Jankowski, Vera Frenkel, Mark Lewis, Stan Douglas, Zacharias Kunuk, Althea Thauberger, Omer Fast, David Hartt, Kelly Richardson, Guy Ben-Ner, and Jeremy Shaw.

Since entering the Gallery’s collection, The Clock has been shared with audiences across the country through the Gallery’s NGC@ program. The most recent of these partnerships is with the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton. 

The Clock is on view at the Art Gallery of Alberta from February 13 through April 12. For more information, including details of special 24-hour screenings, please click here.


By Peter Zimonjic, NGC Staff| February 13, 2015
Categories:  Exhibitions

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Peter Zimonjic, NGC Staff

Peter Zimonjic, NGC Staff

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