MoMA Presents

Ken Okiishi’s Vital Behaviors

Jul 22–Aug 6, 2021

MoMA, Online

Vital Behaviors. 2019. USA. Directed by Ken Okiishi. Courtesy the artist and Reena Spaulings Fine Art, New York/Los Angeles
  • Online
  • MoMA, Floor T2/T1, Theater 1 The Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 1
  • MoMA, Floor 1, Sculpture Garden The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden

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Showing in its US premiere, Ken Okiishi’s most recent moving-image work is an engrossing take on the studio portrait. In tasking his real-life fitness coach with restaging social media photographs in reverse order—an embodiment of the social feed, half archive, half look book—the artist plays with notions of identity at the center of contemporary visual culture. That Okiishi’s work has long made use of re-creation only deepens his vision of today’s technology-laden psychodrama. If his turn-of-the-millennium video Death and the College Student (1999) memorably sees the artist channeling River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, any fantasy in Vital Behaviors looks inward; in lieu of confession and projection onto cultural icons, self-image is a feedback loop generating new, desirable possibilities at the swipe of a thumb.

More a work of cinema than of influencer culture, this hourlong, meticulously paced work is at turns confounding, tantalizing, and even moving. Okiishi captures the moments in which affect approaches virtuosic performance and a young model becomes an actor. (Indeed, the star of Vital Behaviors, Brian Altemus, has since appeared in Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always, in his first screen credit.) With a sort of reciprocal training at play, the work is utterly devoid of cynicism. On the contrary, intimate and self-searching, it tackles social media artifice—even teeters on the edge—and unleashes something entirely profound.

Initially planned for April 2020, this rescheduled, expanded presentation unfolds across the Museum’s physical and digital spaces in a sequence envisioned by Okiishi, and is accompanied by a Carte Blanche program of films selected by the artist. In person, a return to cinemas offers a chance to share in a larger-than-life experience. Online, Vital Behaviors screens with Telly & Casper (2000), whose exploration of artifice, data streams, and youth culture—all filtered through the script of Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s 1995 film Kids—offers deeply moving glimpses at today’s technology-inflected bodies glitching through cities and situations that, 20 years ago, could be said to feel more like a “website than a mise en scène.”

Organized by Sophie Cavoulacos, Assistant Curator, Department of Film.

Film at MoMA is made possible by CHANEL.

Additional support is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Debra and Leon D. Black and by Steven Tisch, with major contributions from The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, Karen and Gary Winnick, and The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston.


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