Exhibition Reviews From the Archive

Composing Moments: A Review of Jason Moran’s STAGED

By Daniel Smyth

A glimpse of a bygone period of American jazz is reimagined in the works STAGED by composer, musician, artist and MacArthur Fellow Jason Moran. The Luhring Augustine Bushwick location is currently hosting this first solo show of Moran’s. The exhibition mines New York City’s jazz scene of the 1930s and 40s and the animating affects of the once vivacious clubs and performance spaces. On display are two reconceived stages from the old Savoy Ballroom in Harlem and the 3 Deuces on 72nd Street, both of which have since passed into memory. Other two and three-dimensional smaller works in Moran’s STAGED compliment as well as invoke, which sets a tone for a reminiscent sensory experience. Moran’s installations resonate with sound just as the iconic jazz performances did, but an echoing recollection fills the air for the vibrant life of a past New York era. This provocative exhibition also provides a sampling of what may be ahead for his first solo museum exhibition at the Walker Center coming in Fall, 2017.

Jason Moran,  STAGED ,  Savoy Ballroom 1  and  Three Deuces , 2015, Mixed media, sound, 120 x 216 x 120 inches (304.8 x 548.6 x 304.8 cm).    
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Jason Moran, STAGED, Savoy Ballroom 1 and Three Deuces, 2015, Mixed media, sound, 120 x 216 x 120 inches (304.8 x 548.6 x 304.8 cm). © Jason Moran; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

In the corner of the gallery, padded walls provide the setting for a self-playing piano and the redux of the 3 Deuces club interior. Behind the piano stands an off-white drum set, and alongside is a case enclosing a cello and a wooden seat. The padded walls form a corner room, which almost appears like recording studio. Throughout the gallery space a great wave of vague rustling, like an audience sitting down or a woman singing, bounces through speakers, and from a reconstruction of the Savoy Ballroom listeners can extract its ambiguous source. The ballroom stage configures disproportionally small against the size of the space and its inhabitants, and curves overhead, just as the ceiling of Savoy once did. The sparse notes from the Three Deuces corner piano thread into a melody and intertwine the noisy stages together. One cannot help but wander through the gallery like the resonating din, without order or implicit direction.

On the perimeter, charcoal smeared on torn pieces of paper hang framed on the walls. The uneven scraps are weathered like an ancient holy text, or a leaf that’s pressed beneath glass. However disorderly, the pictures have a pattern like abstracted bars of sheet music burnt onto aged paper, or the surface imprint of piano strings, or an impression of piano keys. The lines have no immediate corollary, and float just as the resounding tones drifting throughout. Two of the framed relics hang vertically, unlike the others. Rather than rhythmic smears, the vertical sheets are pieces of strip music from a music box. The hole-punched documents include lyrics along the side to accompany their melody when played, but the sheets sit silently confined on the wall while sounds from the stages inflate the space.

Each moment in the staged space grows stranger and more distant. The exhibition stands like a time capsule of New York City’s jazz, of what once roused and danced with brilliance is now a recollection. It is impressive, but after four or five minutes the prodding antagonism pushes you away; conceivably the difference between experience in music against the listener’s watching, or the sound recording in conflict with the present. A contention that perhaps a contemporary master of jazz investigates and confronts. Moran is currently the Artistic Director of Jazz at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Moran’s staged constructions draw this antithesis by creating a struggle. The Savoy Ballroom 1 and Three Deuces are not what they represent, and cannot be, just like a ghost’s haunting sound is without a living performance; inanimate, no musician, no life. But the startling affect in Moran’s STAGED objects is their reminder that antagonism itself gave birth to jazz; to celebrate the struggle of repetitive hurt, and to honor pain.

STAGED will be on view through July 30 at Luhring Augustine’s Bushwick location, and Moran is currently curating the Artist’s Studio, a series of performances at the Park Avenue Armory.

Jason Moran,  STAGED,  Three Deuces , 2015, Mixed media, sound, 120 x 216 x 120 inches (304.8 x 548.6 x 304.8 cm). © Jason Moran; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Jason Moran, STAGED,  Three Deuces, 2015, Mixed media, sound, 120 x 216 x 120 inches (304.8 x 548.6 x 304.8 cm). © Jason Moran; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.


Anri Sala at the New Museum

by Cara Greene

Juxtaposed with the luminous yet spartan rectilinear geometry of the New Museum’s exterior, Albanian artist Anri Sala’s the three-floor retrospective ignites experiential dualities that both compliment and contradict. Soberly encapsulated in dark, bluish-grey rooms with carpeting on the fourth and second floors that quiet spectators’ footsteps, the installation ensures that the delicate details of Sala’s mixed-media installations are perceptible. Though none of Sala’s artworks are necessarily tactile, they all incorporate the material of human and non-human bodies in some way: close-ups of elbows, wrinkles, hair, details of construction projects, gloved knuckles, voices, footsteps, echoes, and so on. In spite of their complexity, Sala’s pieces articulate themselves through the harmony of their component parts: the musical elements of his works activate the images they accompany, and the cinematic aspects evoke the feeling of a painting. As his largest showing of works in the United States to date, Sala’s retrospective is as much a conversation between cultural precedent and the present-day as it is a dialogue between visual and sonic forms of expression.

While I was impressed with most pieces in the exhibition, the pairing of two large-scale sound and video pieces, Ravel, Ravel (2013) and Unravel (2015) on the fourth floor struck me as the most dynamically cohesive. In these pieces, Sala asks the spectator to recall—and question—the significance of the live symphony by presenting it in part in absence, compressed and transformed. Instead of the presence of an orchestra, Sala has set up surround sound speakers; in place of a stage, our gaze is presented with a movie screen.

Ravel Ravel,  2013. Installation view: “Anri Sala: Answer Me,” New Museum. Courtesy Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; Marian Goodman Gallery; and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

Ravel Ravel, 2013. Installation view: “Anri Sala: Answer Me,” New Museum. Courtesy Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; Marian Goodman Gallery; and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

In the larger gallery, projections show the two left hands of pianists Louis Lortie and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet playing Maurice Ravel’s composition ‘Piano Concerto in D for the Left Hand (1930). In the dark space, the spectator is confronted aurally, with the grandiose beauty of the composition, as well as visually: the projections magnify the active human digits’ music-making: every small contraction and imperfection of the giant disembodied hands is amplified For the piece, Sala altered the tempo of Ravel’s composition, so that that the two versions are staggered. The absence of the pianists’ right hands and the audible moments of disunity in their coupled performances make witnessing these optically giant crawling fingers dizzying and surreal. The chamber is outfitted with angular teeth-like soundproofing foam from floor to ceiling. Together, these elements combine to make up an otherworldly sanctuary… a minimalist cathedral dedicated to the unity and discord of space and sound.

Unravel , 2013. Installation view: “Anri Sala: Answer Me,” New Museum. Courtesy Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; Marian Goodman Gallery; Hauser & Wirth; and kurimanzutto, Mexico City. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

Unravel, 2013. Installation view: “Anri Sala: Answer Me,” New Museum. Courtesy Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; Marian Goodman Gallery; Hauser & Wirth; and kurimanzutto, Mexico City. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

In another striking sound and video piece, Unravel (2015), DJ Chloé Thévenin attempts to synchronize the two different recordings in Ravel, Ravel on her turntables. Thévenin’s gentle hands are a sharp contrast with the pianists’ in Ravel, Ravel: these belong to a woman, and they are motionless, hovering over the well-lit turntables, as if waiting for the precise moment to nudge the songs back into synchronicity. Is she an engineer or a musician? Unravel also reckons with the relationship between live and recorded music–the fluid rotation of the vinyl records is distinguished from the rigid piano “ivories” in the adjacent room. It simultaneously breathes new life into an old-fashioned form of expression as it considers contemporary relevance of classical music.

In all of the pieces in Answer Me, the work of musicianship is manifest, and the relationship between “art” and “labor” is revealed. Throughout the exhibition, Sala’s artworks wrestle with the overlap between the pictorial and the auditory, layering the larger themes of space and time with history, geography, and politics. Answer Me is a poignant and intimate exhibition that manages to conjure the new through a duet with the old.

Anri Sala, "Answer Me" will be on view through April 10, 2016

Signs, Sounds & Space: A Review of Louise Despont at The Drawing Center

By Beatrice Thornton

The delicately immersive exhibition Energy Scaffolds and Information Architecture, currently on view at the Drawing Center, possesses a particular vitality drawn from its dynamic architectural installation that has not been seen in previous presentations of artist Louise Despont’s (b. 1983) work. Rather than the familiar approach carefully displaying stenciled colored-pencil drawings within frames and behind glass or plexi panes, the Drawing Center show places her work in a site-specific context that mines and amplifies the complex connection between the kinetic and physical form, providing a suitably distinct milieu for her precise and intricate, geometric works on paper.

Upon walking into the first gallery, one is immediately presented with an atmosphere comparative to a temple — an analogous reference might be a yoga studio with its cubbyholes for shoes. The soft, effusive sounds of gongs and bells fill the space and provide an appropriately meditative atmosphere for viewing the fastidious works, which demand close study and contemplation.

The intertwining of architectural space and sound speaks to Despont’s influence and knowledge of Eastern religious and philosophical texts, as she lives between Bali, Indonesia, and New York. And her undergraduate studies in semiotics at Brown University clearly provide the basis for her evocative visual representation in which every drawn element signifies the process where energy transmutes into the material realm.

Courtesy of The Drawing Center. Photo by Martin Parsekian

Courtesy of The Drawing Center. Photo by Martin Parsekian

The soothing sounds emanating throughout the gallery are produced by a “gamelatron”, a mesmerizing series of gongs and bells, fashioned especially for this exhibition by the artist Aaron Taylor Kuffner, and which lends a transformative and calming atmosphere to the exhibition. As the press release notes, the gamelatron is “a robotic variant of the gamelan, the traditional Balinese and Javanese orchestra that includes vibraphones, drums, chimes, bells, and gongs.”

Despont’s drawings, rather than occupying the gallery’s walls — on which the gamelatron implements are affixed — hang on the interiors of two site-specific architectural entities and for which the designs comes from the idea of kain poleng, a Balinese concept for sacred space. In the first gallery a small, square area with an exterior lined by dowel pegs, Despont’s drawings resemble plans for painted frescoes with their subdued yet bright hues. The series of drawings within this room, entitled Pure Potential, was created from 48 ledger book pages and notably includes more simplified shapes than Despont’s other work. Moving into the ovoid and aptly named “oval room,” more complex compositions, such as Subtle and Circulatory Female, conjure comparisons to Eastern medical drawings, as they loosely illustrate circulation systems within the body. The artist’s use of ledger paper, some showing neatly inscribed accounting records, which appear to date from the earlier years of the previous century, uniquely provides a historical dialogue with the drawings as well as the reuse of paper throughout history, such as in Medieval manuscripts or 20th century collage. 

As in many sacred spaces, Energy Scaffolds and Information Architecture should be preferably experienced when few visitors are present, and the addition of sound and a constructed enclosure within the cubic gallery interior unites and complements the energy present in Despont’s drawings. The intimacy of the spaces, fusing together the aural and visual elements, invites the kind of solitary reflection that larger museums generally lack.

Curated by Brett Littman, Executive Director, The Drawing Center
Energy Scaffolds and Information Architecture will be on view through March 20


Defying Space and Time: A Review of Christian Voigt’s Photography

By Daniel Smyth

Photography is simultaneously a vehicle for documentation as well as an inventive manifestation of the imaginative, and with an ever-evolving technical and visual language. On view at UNIX Gallery in Chelsea is an exhibition of German photographer Christian Voigt’s recent works, simply titled Photography. Voigt is renown for his immense representations of encompassing views with a distinct exploitation of color. He employs a large-format camera, both digital and analog, to capture scenes of grand libraries, abandoned vaults, arid landscapes, and strikingly sublime temples. These vast scenes are incandescent and arresting.

The exhibition is compiled of nine recent works, each image stylistically consistent with Voigt’s surreal painterly approach, of which relies on his unique methodology. As in much of his work, he painstakingly superimposes multiple exposures atop one another overlaying color and detail, rather than exclusively using digital technology. Each resulting singular image possesses such sharp definition that they become a seemingly unreal milieu.

Voigt reconciles the past through a visual phenomenon. The enchanting and formidable photographs draw the viewer into a fantasy of an otherworldly place as if some myth of long ago. Baroque Library Hall, part of his “Prague” series, which squarely hangs measuring 192 x 188 cm in the first room of the gallery, challenges our perception of light and space, and therefore, time. Objects in the shadowy foreground appear vividly in detail bubbling with color while the background shines forward. The result is an assembly of floating tables and shapes that hover down the hall independent of natural light or shadow. Hypnotic, an uncertain moment is fixed.

Christian Voigt,  Baroque Library Hall  -  Clementinium , Prague Series, 74 x 75 inches (188 x 192 cm), 2015, edition of 12. Courtesy of UNIX Gallery

Christian Voigt, Baroque Library Hall - Clementinium, Prague Series, 74 x 75 inches (188 x 192 cm), 2015, edition of 12. Courtesy of UNIX Gallery

A dreamy aura can also be found in Voigt’s image of the Philae Temple, which spans 250 x 110 cm across the gallery wall. In the photograph, a man wearing in a bright purple tunic sits against one of ten sandy pillars guarding a luminous hallway into the temple. The evocative and nuanced light shining on, and ostensibly within, the columns throw the temple’s spatial relationship into myopic disarray. The man acts as an anchor via conspicuous color; his peculiar white eyes pierce through the surface producing a conical perspective outward towards the viewer transforming proper perspective into a limpid surface.

The second room of the gallery features haunting compositions from Voigt’s “Vault” series, a collection highlighting the barren Mid-City Trust and Savings Bank in Chicago, finalizing the syntactic nature of the exhibition. The first photograph presented, a rectilinear vault vitiated by time’s melancholic wear, lures one’s eyes down into a passage and out of frame to follow trickling natural light. A precariously hanging deposit box door disrupts the subsequent image that details the vault’s wall; the physicality punctures the surface conjuring weathered history back from its frozen moment. The work’s conclusion is an installation of the actual deposit box, encased, finalizing the arranged spatial play between a photograph’s composed interpretation and the immediate comprehension of physical form. It is as if the photographs expand their reference from the morass of history back into the present.

Photography will be on view through February 27 at Unix Gallery’s Chelsea locatio