The Square questions the place of art in the midst of social class
While the art market can be obscene—exhibit A: $450.3-million for Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi—corners of the art world can seem bizarre and byzantine, from jargon-riddled exhibit explanations to confounding installations. But The Square doesn’t so much mock galleries-gone-weird as stage its own conceptual-art pieces.
Ruben Östlund’s waggish, oddball film—more like a string of episodes—questions the good intentions of citizens in a liberal democracy, the relationship of a modern art museum to our lives outside its walls, and society’s obligations to its poorest.
If that sounds lofty, this is more surreal japery than suave satire. It plays out at times more like an arthouse-Jackass or a cringe-comedy made chucklingly icky-odd.
Even amid a flustered discussion of sex and power, for instance, there’s a background-audio gag.
After online-tracking his stolen phone’s GPS, X-Royal Museum curator Christian (Claes Bang) and aide Michael (Christopher Læssø) drive out to that spot—an apartment-tower in a sketchier part of Stockholm—only to bicker over who should slip return-my-property-or-else flyers into all the mailboxes. Or, after sex, Christian’s chary of letting journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss) throw out his condom—the stand-off threatens to become a latex tug of war.
While a little of this 140-minute work’s drollery can wear thin, a few of its sequences languishing into longueurs, it boasts unforgettable moments of daft inspiration. (The through-line story rings us back to that stolen-phone search, but what was wry starts to chill.)
A floor-cleaner cautiously Zambonis among the heaps of little rocks in the “Mirrors & Piles of Gravel” exhibit; an ape ambles through Anne’s apartment as Christian looks on, befuddled. From a Tourettes-sufferer’s outbursts at an artist interview to a confrontational apeman performance piece, the thin veneer between bourgeois sophistication and guttural animalism gets smeared and re-smeared.
In this respectable, polite beaux-arts arena, dim left-ish notions of respect and tolerance are blown up. And, with its scenes of street beggars’ public struggles, The Square—named after a light-lined four-by-four installation described as “a sanctuary of trust and caring”—may just provoke you to wonder anew at art’s place and purpose in our world of haves and have-nots.
Directed by Ruben Östlund
Fri., Feb. 9 – Thu., Feb. 15