On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I visited the New Museum in New York, which dedicated all its galleries to video works during this time. Three of the museum’s floors were dedicated to a retrospective of the Swiss video and media artist Pipilotti Rist. It is the first major retrospective of her work in New York.
The title piece of the exhibition filled most of the third floor gallery. The huge immersive piece consisted of hanging strands of resin beads with LEDs that gradually changed colors in a uniform synchronous manner.
Viewers were encouraged to walk among the strands, bumping and even touching the surfaces which had a somewhat oily feel to them. There was a certain hypnotic beauty to the experience, even with the large number of other visitors wandering through. The effect was completed by water sounds throughout the space.
The floor below featured some of Rist’s earlier works, including some of her single channel videos. There was one that featured close-ups people people eating, but also growing vegetation and an appearance by a cat.
But even these single channel videos were projected onto moving curtains which allowed visitors to move among the pieces, becoming part of the larger installation. A small set of elliptical laser lights also moved about the lower gallery.
One corner featured a series of larger two-panel video works. I was particularly taken with this one featuring a nicely dressed woman smashing car windows with the stalk of a plant that was shown growing in a field in some clips.
The top floor of the gallery showed Rist’s newest pieces, which placed video and media into architectural spaces. This sight-specific piece projected irregular aquatic video onto the ceiling while views lay below on beds. Nearby was another much smaller architectural piece featuring a bedroom and a model of the moon with video projection.
It was quite adorable, but showed how the architectural focus of her most recent works could be done on multiple scales, very large and very small.
The ground floor gallery featured a series of video works by Chinese artist Cheng Ran. The exhibition, titled Diary of a Madman was based on Cheng’s three-month residence in New York with the New Museum. Based on a Chinese short story written in 1918, the videos were shot and editing in New York and feature a variety of locations, including an abandoned psychiatric hospital on Long Island. I found the combination of bleak spaces with musical elements to be quite interesting.
A visit to the New Museum often includes a visit to the observation deck on the top floor. It was a cold but clear day which provided for a good view of the changing skyline of lower Manhattan.
Overall, it was a good visit to the museum. But I was far from alone, as it was quite crowded with a line waiting to get in. I suppose on a dreary day when so many are running around shopping, a dark museum is a very inviting place indeed.
For us at CatSynth, coming back to New York almost always means a visit to Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It’s a place that is always safe, inviting and inspiring. It’s also a change to spend time with some old friends, like Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, a painting that for me has an almost religious significance.
There are of course, many special exhibitions, and we discuss them below.
Much of the top floor of the museum was reserved for a retrospective of the work of Francis Picabia, one of the less-well-known of the great modern artists from the first half of the 20th Century. Though known for his association with the Dada movement, his oeuvre includes many other ever-changing styles. Indeed, the exhibition begins with his early works in an impressionist style. Though very well executed, they are not particularly exciting other than the provocative nature (for the time) of using photographs as sources. However, after this initial period, his work explodes with large abstract canvases.
[Francis Picabia. Udnie (Jeune fille américaine; danse) (Udnie [Young American Girl; Dance]). 1913. Oil on canvas, 9′ 6 3/16″ × 9′ 10 1/8″ (290 × 300 cm). Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle, Paris. Purchased by the State, 1948. © 2016 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/Georges Meguerdtchian/Dist. RMN–Grand Palais/Art Resource, New York.]
The painting shown above, Udnie (Jeune fille américaine; danse) (Udnie [Young American Girl; Dance]) is exemplary of this period of his work. It is huge, almost 10 feet by 10 feet square, and features bright industrial colors with large curving lines. This painting had a colder and higher-contrast palette than its neighbors, so it particularly attracted me. There is also the fact that the title reminds me of the David Bowie album of similar name.
Picabia became a leading artist in the Dada movement, producing many paintings and drawings of industrial and manufactured objects, some featuring bits of text that he found from encyclopedias and other sources. They have the sparse, sometimes sad quality of readymades, but also show steady and disciplined hands at work to create these pieces.
The centerpiece of the Dada sections of the exhibition was a recreation of one of his Paris exhibitions, with drawings arranged in a linear fashion and rugs along the gallery floor. The pieces were a mixture of Dada, abstraction and figurative images (mostly of Spanish women). These demonstrate the artist’s desire to not be stuck in one style or even just one movement.
Picabia went through a period of more figurative painting in the years leading up to and during World War II, including a somewhat odd set of photorealistic paintings from soft-porn images that he created while living in under the Vichy regime in southern France. After the war, however, he returned to abstraction until his death in 1953. Many of these late works have a somewhat minimal quality, including a series consist of large dots on a monochromatic background
The other major exhibition on the top floor featured a full-gallery installation by Kai Althoff entitled and then leave me to the common swifts (und dann überlasst mich den Mauerseglern). The space itself was the artwork in which the viewer was invited to wander.
[Installation view of Kai Althoff: and then leave me to the common swifts (und dann überlasst mich den Mauerseglern). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 18, 2016–January 22, 2017. Photograph © Kai Althoff]
The labyrinthine installation is a seeming clutter of objects, looking more like a messy artists’ studio. However, on closer inspection, one sees that there are a lot of older works from the artist in various states of integrity among found objects like dolls and clothing. The artwork fragments included heads with strange expressions. Overall, it was one of the more confounding exhibitions I have seen. I am not one to necessary require “meaning” from art, but I do tend to look for lines, shapes and patterns. But being challenged by an exhibition is not a bad thing.
In addition to the hunt for old favorites in the permanent collection, an entire floor was dedicated to works from he 1960s, arranged one room per year. The detailed view shows just how rich and varied the art of that decade was, and how art transformed into what we think of as contemporary in the early 21st Century. Among the works on display was a set of photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher. We have discussed them before, as their work is very influential for my own art photography.
The video work of Nam June Paik has also been a major influence. The exhibition featured a very minimal work of his, essentially reducing analog video to a single line.
Yayoi Kusama is enjoying a lot of attention of late. This work, which appeared to be a chair of penises, was featured prominently. The description of the piece confirmed my phallic interpretation.
The second floor also featured multiple special exhibitions, including the provocative “architectural” show on displacement and shelter, focusing on migrants and refugees in the modern world. It included a full-size refugee tent shelter, as well as overhead images of a sea of such shelters. There were images from camps that have been in the news lately, such as the large one in Callais, France. There were also some art pieces on the same theme, such as lightboxes with images of war zones by Tiffany Chung.
[finding one’s shadow in ruins and rubble. Tiffany Chung, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art]
There was also a large world map with strings representing patterns of migration, along with sound and visual elements. Not surprisingly, a great many of those lines led to the United States.
It’s a reminder that the U.S. has always been a welcoming country for refugees and immigrants, and will hopefully remain so.
There is always more that I saw and resonated with an I can fit in such an article. Please visit us on Instagram to see more of our latest visit to the MoMA.
Geometric and texture study from the Port of Long Beach, 2014. You can read more and see more images from my visit here.
At the southern edge of Los Angeles County lies the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two largest and busiest in the United States. They are in some ways an entire separate city, with their own network of bridges and freeways beyond the regular network of Los Angeles and its environs.
We begin our exploration in a quiet and somewhat industrial section of Long Beach along Willow Road. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we encounter the northern California Highway 103, the Terminal Island Freeway which is a major truck route to the port. It might be the heavy truck traffic that accounts for its being in rather poor shape.
Heading south on CA 103, we pass through a flat, industrial landscape. It is a bit desolate, but beautiful in its way. There are only two interchanges, one of which is with CA 1. Continuing past the interchanges, the freeway transitions to California Highway 47 and crosses the Cerritos Channel to Terminal Island the ports on the Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Bridge. This is a massive lift bridge that can accommodate large ships accessing the port.
It has an old industrial and dystopian feel to its architecture, particularly on the foggy morning when I visited. Since then, the bridge has been decommissioned and is in the process of being replaced.
I left the freeway at New Dock Street to get a closer look and to take more photos of the bridge and other details of the ports. Photographing around the working port has its challenges with a great many areas fenced off, and a no doubt a heightened suspicion of odd people wandering around with cameras. I did get a few, some of which are shared here. They have also appeared in Wordless Wednesday posts (and will continue to do so).
CA 47 turns onto the Seaside Freeway runs east-west and bisects Terminal Island. Heading east, the freeway (also known as Ocean Boulevard) the graceful Gerald Desmond Bridge, becoming I-710 heading north through Long Beach.
You can read about our separate adventure along I-710 is this article.
Following CA 47 west along the freeway, one winds up and down between elevated and surface sections before ascending to the photogenic Vincent Thomas Bridge.
There is a small park on the west side of the bridge, which affords one a change to get out, walk, and view both the bridge and the channel. There are families and others here, many probably from the adjacent community of San Pedro. We have in an instant left the industrial landscape of the port and entered the residential landscape of greater Los Angeles. It is appropriate the CA 47 ends here and the freeway turns north as I-110, the Harbor Freeway. But that is a story for another time.
I recently reported on my performance with Tania Chen at Spectrum in New York. However, this was not the first of our New York collaborations. A few days earlier we debuted our set at The Brick Theater in Brooklyn.
First up that evening was our friend Nick Dimopoulos as SMOMID, which is also the name of his invented musical instrument.
The SMOMID is a “Strong Modeling Midi Device” that allowed him to control multiple synthesizers and sequencers. His performance was highly dynamic and uses a lot of familiar performance idioms from the guitar, but in the service of a very different musical style that included fast electronic drum runs and other rhythmic patterns. Overall it was an intense and visual performance.
Then it was time for us to take the stage! We started quietly and a bit tentatively with Tania on melodica and myself on keyboard and synthesizer. As with the Spectrum gig, the principle instruments for me were a Nord Electro and a DSI Prophet 12 (for some reason the Moog Mother-32 wasn’t working that night). After a bit of the sound became thicker and more animated. And then we moved to the central part of our performance: two pop-style songs, the first of which was called “Cheezy Love Song.”
The second was a decidedly more melancholy song called “I Still Love You”, with a darker tone provided by the P12 beneath Tania’s singing. From here we segued directly into another experimental electro-acoustic improvisation that showcased the variety of sounds and objects at our disposal.
Our final piece was a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, which was of course a lot of fun and allowed me to exercise my pop and jazz keyboard skills. Overall, it was a good first performance, but we did learn a lot of things that we used to make Spectrum a few days later a great performance.
One feature of performing at The Brick is that it is a theater. Indeed, there was a play being staged that week, and all the sets had to accommodate the stage set. But it did make for a fun and unusual setting for the music, and in particular we took advantage of some of it within our performance.
The final set featured Teerapat Parnmongkol performing live ambient electronics along with live electronic video.
The music was reminiscent of electronic dance music in a club setting, but it did go off in other directions with noise hits, breaks in the rhythm and more. In the darkened space, however, one’s attention was squarely drawn to the video.
Overall it was a great show and we here happy to share the bill with these other artists. I would also like to extend a thank you to The Brick Theater and to Craig Flanagin for hosting us and making sure things ran smoothly. Hopefully I will be performing in Brooklyn again soon.
Today we look back at my performance with Tania Chen at Spectrum in New York, a little over a week ago.
[Photo by BC]
Our duo is built around a mixture of experimental improvisation with electronic instruments and other elements, and songs with lyrics, melodies and chords, often segueing seamlessly from one to the other. Spectrum has a wonderful Steinway grand piano, which allowed to Tania to exercise her piano skills while I focused on chords and rhythm with a Nord Electro keyboard and DSI Prophet 12 and Moog Mother-32 synthesizers. At times the sound was dark and droning, others very sparse, and many times quite humorous – after all, we did sing a “Cheezy Love Song.” The songs themselves were quite structured, but there as well as the improvisations in between we were able to play off one another to create patterns and textures.
[Photos by BC]
I particularly like the sections combining the acoustic piano with the Prophet 12, and our dueling Casio keyboards. And yes, we had a lot of fun. You can see our full performance in this video below.
Overall we had a great time performing and it was quite well received by the audience. It wasn’t actually our first show together in New York. That was at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn and will be discussed in a separate article.
Our performance was in the middle of the bill. The evening began with a set by Hey Exit, a solo project by Brooklyn-based Brandan Landis.
Using guitar, electronics and video, Landis created a dark soundscape, sometimes noisy and drawing from his backgrounds in punk and noise, but at other times quite haunting and ethereal. The room was particularly dark, with light only from the video screen and a nearby candle.
Hey Exit was followed by a solo set by Jeff Surak featuring sundry electronic and acoustic sound sources.
Much of the set featured long drones with rich timbres, but also details such as beating patterns and occasional breaks in the sound. The timbres could be tense at moments, but overall tt was a very meditative performance; and a perfect sonic segue into our very different set.
We were immediately followed by Jarvis Jun Earnshaw performing with guitar, voice and electronics.
His sound at times was reminiscent of cafe folk singers, but his voice was anxious and abstract. The entire performance mostly followed the pattern of combining these elements with high-feedback delay and other effects.
The final set Jenn Grossman, another Brooklyn-based musician and sound artist.
[Photo by BC]
Her electronic set featured vocal experimentation with electronics, including rhythmic and ambient elements. Although also making use of drones, it was very different from Jeff Surak’s sound, more harmonic and thicker, more like a dreamy movie scene versus a tense dark space. There were percussive hits and noisy bits as well, which gave the music a defined texture.
It was overall a great experience being back at Spectrum and performing along with all the other acts. And we had a sizable and appreciative audience, despite the space being a little hot that evening. Thanks as always to Robert Pepper (Alrealon Musique) and Glenn Cornet for hosting us, and hopefully I will play there again soon.