Tilda Swinton is sleeping in a glass box at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. Right now. Or at least until MoMA closes tonight.
The Twitterverse is alive with comments about the event from visitors to MoMA who seemed to have wandered in off the street or rushed off to the museum after they read about it on Twitter. Crowds seems fixated and fascinated by watching the ethereal-looking actress asleep under plexiglass.
The appearances are random and unannounced, which is part of the fun. I first learned about Sleeping Swinton on Saturday during the evening news. Her pop-up performance is a bonus timed to coincide with the New Directors/New Films festival that is jointly presented by the museum and the Film Festival of Lincoln Center and runs through Sunday.
On Saturday, films were being screened downstairs even as Swinton slumbered on an upper floor. There’s no telling when the next performance will take place, but it’s a sure bet you can read about it on Twitter.
Weekend Update’s Seth Meyers — who may soon have Jimmy Fallon’s late-night TV spot — tweeted that it could be an “Ocean’s 14 pitch: The gang steals a sleeping Tilda Swinton. She wakes up and ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE!”
And Emily Smith from New York Post’s Page Six tweeted, “MoMA is mobbed with people today hoping to see Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass box. Personally, I thought she was better in Narnia.”
And James Brockhart tweeted, “Wonder what lesbian thought THAT up!”
Much has been written about Ms. Swinton’s David Bowie-like androgynous appearance. She made her mark as the gender-bending star of Sally Potter’s “Orlando” (1992), where she changed her sex and character seemingly effortlessly. Prior to that, she was the muse and starred in the near silent films of Derek Jarman, who died of AIDS in 1994.
In 2005’s “Constantine,” she slapped on a pair of wacky wings and played the angel Gabriel. Not many actors could pull it off, but Ms. Swinton did. With her white hair and dyed-white eyebrows and skin almost mime white, she’s an otherworldly presence. I can see why people are mesmerized by watching her, whether in person or on celluloid.
In my pal Eugene Hernandez’s excellent report of the event for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, he wrote of bold-face names who checked out the event, like James Franco, who is probably dreaming up his own next art installation event.
Another bold-faced name, Michael Stipe, circled Swinton’s bed and then went upstairs to view Swinton from a different angle. Hernandez says viewers seemed “bemused and bewildered,” which is pretty much what you would expect. She is wearing a loose blue shirt and dark pants and occasionally, she flings an arm over her head or twitches.
It turns out she is an old hand at this performance art stuff. The installation is called “The Maybe” and is the New York debut of the work that she originally staged at Serpentine Gallery in London in 1995, according to Hernandez, who also said that the following year, she staged it at the Museo Barracco in Rome. She’ll continue presenting the piece on various days through November.
I am a big fan of Swinton’s films, especially her more recent “I Am Love” and Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” for which I think she deserved an Oscar nomination. When not sleeping, she’s currently filming Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
I met the actress in 2005 at a press event for “Thumbsucker,” a film in which she played the suburban mother of an alienated, Ritalin-addicted, pot-smoking, and sex-obsessed teenager. In person, she lives up to expectations. Her features looked alternately washed out and exquisitely refined, depending on the angle she turned her face and the reflection of the light. She’s very tall, nearly 6 feet, and she has long legs and a long neck and resembles some fantastic crane in the way she moves.
She was jetlagged and tired from a daylong series of press events. “I don’t know if I’ve got any juice for you,” Tilton told me in her very posh English accent, “but ask the question. I don’t know if I have any answers.” The fact is everything she said was fascinating.
She’d just appeared on the cover of the Times Fashion magazine, where she looked anything but androgynous. Her hair is very light. She posed holding her breasts, and her lips were slightly apart. She corrected me when I asked how she liked being a blond. “It’s white. I’m not a blond.”
As for how she enjoyed looking sexy for a change, she said, “Well it’s very nice of you to say. I wasn’t thinking of being a sexy babe at the time, but it’s all in the eye of the beholder.”
She added, “It’s good but I don’t take any responsibility for it. I’d have to maybe catch myself in the mirror to get that vibe. What do I feel? I feel my hair might fall out any minute because it’s been blondified twice this year.”
For some reason, maybe because she looks so otherworldly, I asked her if she believed in an afterlife. “I believe we, ah, we don’t go anywhere, particularly. I think that the planet needs us all and draws us back in, and I think that if we want to stay and be helpful, and I think we do, our bodies decay but you know, but I do believe, that energy hangs about and does useful things like growing plants.”
I asked, We come back as that, plants? “We never really go anywhere, I don’t think. Unless we want to. I’m not sure. Some people leave the building.”
At the moment, Tilda Swinton is in the building, sleeping under glass, and you can watch her sleeping today or some time in the future by checking out Twitter.
UPDATE: Jimmy Kimmel mentioned Swinton in his monologue on March 25. “If you are in New York, for $20 you can see Tilda sleep in a box,” he said. “Or if you’re in L.A., you can see Gary Busey pass out for nothing.”