SF MOMA Piece Depicts Silicon Valley's Wealth

French artist Sylvie Blocher has been working with new media since the early 1990s. She has created a video piece for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art about wealthy men from Silicon Valley.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY.

A French video artist named Sylvie Blocher makes site-specific pieces she calls universal local art, or ULA. Her latest ULA is up at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. And as Tanya Ketenjian reports, the art has a golden glow.

TANYA KETENJIAN: Sylvie Blocher's piece at the MoMA is titled "Men in Gold." Blocher's ULAs are based on universal issues that manifest themselves locally. In the case of San Francisco, that issue is money.

Ms. SYLVIE BLOCHER (Artist): Once MOMA commissioned me to do a work, I proposed them why we don't try to make "Men In Gold" here, because the Silicon Valley is like the golden valley.

KETENJIAN: Blocher drafted a letter and the MoMA did a call out for millionaires. The person had to be self-made in Silicon Valley. In the end, Blocher had seven subjects, all men who would reflect on their experience with money.

Ms. BLOCHER: The setting of the place is very important. For example, I'm not on the other side of the camera. On the other side there is nothing, so it's very difficult for them.

Unidentified Man: I have God-given capabilities. I'm doing the best I can with those, and some of those...

KETENJIAN: The exhibit is comprised of two large screens. On the left there is a close-up of the subject. And on the right you can see the men sitting on a chair looking straight at the camera. Their emotions can be clearly seen. Tanya Zimbardo of the museum said there were certain stories in "Men in Gold" that stayed with her.

Ms. TANYA ZIMBARDO (Curatorial Associate, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art): There is one individual who is a venture capitalist, and he talks about really complicated relationship with women, which I think a lot of people experience.

Unidentified Man #2: When I was single and I was dating, I always found a way to use small, little things to win favor with women. And that's when I realized I don't want to do this anymore.

Ms. ZIMBARDO: I think she gets at both success but also people, their awareness of the limits of their success. For example, you might hear - clearly, they've been asked about, let's say, their Porsche.

Unidentified Man # 3: I think everyone should have, and I did, have sex in a Porsche.

Ms. ZIMBARDO: Sylvie, through her questions, is kind of testing kind of assumptions we might have, that if you had money, you know, would you go forward and fulfill these fantasies; or maybe you reject them, maybe this isn't important to you and you choose something else.

KETENJIAN: Phillip Wood(ph), a visitor to the museum, was surprised by one particular statement in the exhibit.

Mr. PHILLIP WOOD: I remember one guy had spoken about his wedding. The best investment, that's it - the best investment that he'd made last year was his wedding, which I felt very cold when he'd said that. I felt that maybe he's viewing everything in his life through fiscal eyes.

Unidentified Man # 4: It was a very material investment and it was not unlike the cost of a seed investment in a startup.

Mr. WOOD: These people were very wealthy and yet they didn't seem happy, which is maybe very telling about money.

KETENJIAN: That is exactly the kind of effect Blocher wants to have on people who experience her art.

Ms. BLOCHER: I think I'm interested about the kind of art who stick inside you like a glue, and you have a few days to come out of that and it helps you to live. I'm really in love with art.

KETENJIAN: For NPR News, I'm Tanya Ketenjian.

BRAND: And that exhibit is up at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art until May 13th.

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