We went to SFMOMA on Tuesday night for a preview of "Christian Marclay: The Clock." In this 24-hour video presentation, shown in a "theater" to spectators occupying sofas, Marclay has woven together hundreds of film clips that include images of clock faces showing specific times. Those chronological readings are identical to the real times at which spectators are watching the presentation. When I walked in, it was just before 8 p.m., and Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon were arguing, in "The Odd Couple," about some women Matthau had invited over to share a meal.
Marclay's concept is easy to grasp, and it's also mesmerizing. Most people at this preview-reception watched for at least an hour; a few admirers said they'd watched - at other installations - for 12 hours.
At a reception downstairs, I met Sabrina Brennan, a graphic designer (and harbor commissioner for San Mateo County) who had provided the 18-foot-tall drapery that converted the fourth-floor gallery into a theater space suitable for Marclay's piece.
She said she'd first come upon the work at the Biennale in Venice. "I was getting art overload, had seen enough," when she saw "a dark room with comfy couches." It was irresistible; she went in, plunked herself down and started doing e-mail.
Looking up after a while, "I suddenly noticed that the time in the film I was watching was matched up with the time on my iPad." This seemed such an amazing experience, almost religious, she said, "that I sought someone out, and asked, 'Have you noticed that the time in the film ...?' "
This revelation, of course, was at the core of Marclay's project. I was all ears. What was the person's response? "He didn't speak English," said Brennan. "I was on my own."
P.S.: Artist Marclay, who was asked at the reception about his favorite part of the day, said, "When I go to bed, and finally lie down." Fans who want to watch the whole project, though, won't be able to lie down. For them, there was one period of extended showings that started Thursday, and SFMOMA has scheduled five more; see the museum's website.