Christian Marclay, The Clock, SFMOMA

As SFMOMA prepares to close for its expansion, Christian Marclay’s cinematic masterpiece The Clock seems an appropriate final exhibition. The piece is all about time, how it passes and slips away, and returns over the cycle of a day. Thousands of movie clips, some well known and some obscure, were painstakingly assembled into a 24-hour video montage in which clock faces or verbal references to time appear at the time of day they represent. For example, an image of a clock at 2PM appears in the piece at 2PM.

Christian Marclay The Clock
[Christian Marclay, video still from The Clock, 2010; single-channel video with stereo sound; 24 hours; courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.]

Time is a powerful subject in film and indeed in all forms of art, and clocks have a long history as symbols. But a 24-hour video containing clips of clocks arranged in real time is something else entirely. At first glance, the idea of the piece can seem a little trite and gimmicky. And the lines to get in to see the piece are daunting – I waited over three hours on Saturday to see a night-time stretch. But getting past these initial impressions and obstacles is well worth the effort, as the piece itself is mesmerizing. It is easy to get lost in a two-hour or even a three-hour stretch as one focuses on the clocks, watches and other visual and verbal representations of time.

Christian Marclay The Clock installation view
[Christian Marclay, installation view of The Clock, 2010; single-channel video with sound; 24 hours; White Cube Mason’s Yard, London, October 15–November 13, 2010; courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and White Cube, London; photo: Todd-White Photography; © Christian Marclay]

I think our brains also naturally want to string the fast changing clips into a longer narrative around time. Towards this end, Marclay’s editing goes well beyond the placement of time in order, including overlaying audio from one film on top of another and having the sound cut out at specific moments, such as the closing of a door or hanging up a telephone. Scenes from different films are interwoven, such as through disparate actions and situations on opposite sides of a phone conversation. There are many moments of humor in these juxtapositions as well. Other scenes, however, just stand out on their own visually.

Christian Marclay The Clock
[Christian Marclay, video still from The Clock, 2010; single-channel video with stereo sound; 24 hours; courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York]

In both viewing The Clock and reflecting upon it, one is struck by the amount of effort it must have taken to make. Indeed, the process of collecting the scenes to cover the full 24-hour period seems even more daunting than the actual editing and post-production processes, though given the number of clips and the length that is an impressive feat in itself. It apparently took over three years for Marclay to complete the piece.

It is worth also seeing at different times of day to see how the scenes reflect our expectations of real time. Not surprisingly, the midnight to 2AM section featured a lot of bedroom scenes, as well as individuals in lonely places. By contrast, 1PM to 3PM contained a lot more action scenes and workplace scenes. 4:30PM had more transitional scenes as day gives way to evening. Some intrepid souls have been able to view most of the full 24 hours, though such a commitment is not necessary to get a good experience of the piece.

The Clock will remain on view at SFMOMA through its official close on June 2. Lines to see it will be especially long during this final week, so get there ahead of time and plan to wait for a while (bring a book).

2 thoughts on “Christian Marclay, The Clock, SFMOMA

  1. As you say, it is hard to imagine this 24 hour movie being captivating at first glance.
    Seeing images and clocks and scenes in real time sounds interesting and would appeal to
    the curiousness within us. I can understand people wanting to see it for a while and at different times 🙂
    (of the day)

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