Christian Marclay macba exhibition review

Christian Marclay: Compositions

With Barcelona affirming its position as a centre of experimental music, it is a rather pertinent choice of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) to present Compositions, an exhibition showing a transversal selection of works by Christian Marclay.

The pieces presented examine sound, its representations and the ways in which they shape our perception, reflecting Marclay’s systemic and conceptual way of thinking and his practice of collecting and recontextualising materials, often drawing from cinema and popular culture in his practice.

Christian Marclay Video Quartet
Christian Marclay's Video Quartet

Entering the exhibition, the first piece I encounter is Video Quartet (2002), the four-screen projection that immediately lures me into a game of trivia. I try to guess which feature movie do the clips from the montages belong to while I listen to the composition created by the merging sound of the videos. Marclay tricks me with his playfully relatable approach and using my quest for cohesion: my eyes are forced to jump from one screen to another while I am trying to relate the sounds to what I see.

Video Quartet being the only piece featuring sound, the rest of the exhibition echoes the absence of it, a dominant theme in the investigations of Marclay. Here the technique of triggering associations then disrupting them reappears by the use of tension between representations of sound and the lack of its presence.

The curved Chalkboard (2010), the interactive installation aiming to illustrate the artist’s engagement with participative processes and performance, is a collective composition written and drawn on the giant music sheet by visitors, interpreted by musicians in certain moments during the exhibition. It repeats the idea of Graffiti Composition (1996-2002), where the artist placed music sheets in public spaces around Berlin then documented how people intervened with them. Forced into the museum context, Chalkboard feels like a constrained version of the earlier piece that it echoes.

Many of the works, like Imaginary Records (1987-97), a series of collages using the covers of vinyl records, Chorus II, a group of images of open mouths or Manga Scroll (2010), a long hand scroll using onomatopoeia (words simulating the sound they represent in a phonetic and visual way), deal with the representation of sound, bringing synaesthesia to my mind, on the level of direct experience. Mixed reviews (1999-2019), a collection of excerpts describing sounds runs through the walls, completely detaching the textual representation from its ephemeral subject by its removal from the original context and its translation, this time into Catalan.

Entering the space where Surround Sound (2014-15) is presented, I am fascinated by the screaming visuals vibrating around me on every wall. The video installation constructed of onomatopoeia from comics is the large-scale manifestation of the idea present in the previous works, the tension created by the lack of sound resulting in my spontaneous urge to replicate the noises I see.

For me, Marclay’s treatment of the medium as not only a transmitter of ideas but also the subject of artistic reflection is definitely amongst the most fruitful aspects of his work. So is my increased awareness of the overlapping sounds surrounding me as I find myself on the streets of Barcelona again.

By Hanna Szabó

Compositions runs through September 24th at MACBA. You can get your ticket online here and remember that every Saturday from 4 to 8 pm MACBA has free admission!

Discover more art exhibitions in Barcelona here >


About the author

Hanna SzabóHanna Szabó is a Budapest based cultural manager with a background in communications. An open-minded creative thinker and writing enthusiast with a transdisciplinary approach.'


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