Christian Marclay: The Clock

Christian Marclay’s video of assembled movie clips won the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion in 2011.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Through June 2

“To say that every viewer will experience The Clock differently sounds like a truism,” said Kenneth Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle. But few viewers will see the entire piece; most of us will each see segments only. Christian Marclay’s video, winner of the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion in 2011, runs 24 hours in length and operates according to a single organizing principle: The exact time of day in any of its hundreds of assembled movie clips must correspond precisely with the time of day in the location where the video is shown. At 11:40, a clip appears of James Bond looking at his watch, which reads 11:40. At 12:30, Dustin Hoffman, as the title character in Rain Man, talks about how he always needs to have lunch at half past 12. Some clips are so short that there are several within a 60-second span. In the five hours I watched, these snippets accumulated “like beads on the thread of its conceptual commitment to synchrony.”

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Here and there, Marclay seems to make time move in spurts, said Lauren Gallagher in the San Francisco Examiner. “Some minutes feel like a thousand lifetimes, while others sink into a still, suspended eternity.” As noon approaches, the action seems to accelerate. “Cowboys grab guns, lovers argue, and gangsters and gamblers get punchy.” Marclay imposes a “pulsating techno-beat” on the midday footage, “heightening suspense.” The ongoing challenge of identifying the clips’ sources will no doubt keep film buffs entertained for hours. But there’s so much more going on here. The Clock “sucks the viewer into its churning vortex” while making shrewd commentary on the ways we view time’s passage—sometimes with anxiety or fear, sometimes with hopeful expectation or boredom. The surprising blend of wit and insight “leaves the viewer giddy, delightfully bewildered, and panting for more.”

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