Thin Men, Strong Women--Looking at Music: Side 2
exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art
Julie Ashcraft A.K.A. Jigsawnovich
NEW YORK--In early 80's New York, kids who covered subway cars with their names could attract museum curators, art students would begin to reach the stature of rock stars, and a blonde white lady from Jersey would top the charts with a rap record.
Artistic experimentation was possible in part because practice space, studio space and apartment rent were incredibly cheap. A six room apartment on Rivington Street, with views of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center towers, rented for $350.mo in the early 1980's. But one had to walk through crowds of people selling, buying and shooting narcotics to get there.
There were bound to be casualties. The brilliant painter, Jean-Michel Basquiat, died of a heroin overdose in 1988. Allusions to the drug can be found in the lyrics to the 1983 Beat Bop rap record Basquiat made with K-Rob and fellow visual artist Rammellzee. The record sleeve, a sound file, and headphones are included in this exhibit.
Two years before "Beat Bop," and fourteen years before Eminem released his first single, Deborah Harry topped the charts with Blondie Rapture--the first rap song by a white artist. The Rapture music video HERE features Basquiat and fellow artists Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy, and it's among several music videos included in this exhibition.
Beth B's video for The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight, a campy romp in a garage with a shirtless man and svelte women in heels featuring the lyric punchline, "Women beat their men," was repeatedly met with museum goers' giggles. But Laurie Anderson's O Superman video received quiet reverence as she sang, "When justice is gone, there is always force. When force is gone, there is always Mom. So hold me in your arms--your petrochemical arms, your military arms, your electronic arms."
Women are everywhere in this exhibition, and their strength is reinforced when they show an ability to analyze psychology linked not only to women's roles in society, but men's--and the role society itself plays in shaping individual perceptions of the world. Jenny Holzer's exhibited Truisms, 1978-87 are still true:
"...Abuse of power should come as no surprise.
Action causes more trouble than thought.
Alienation produces eccentrics or revolutionaries.
All things are delicately interconnected..."
Sadly, something that interconnected many in that art scene was the HIV virus. With no initially successful treatment for the virus, many artists died from AIDS, including David Wojnarowicz. Although he borrowed stylistically from Pop Art and Surrealism, his work navigated sexuality and larger cultural iconography with unusual insight and genuineness. A painting by Wojnarowicz and a photograph of him by Peter Hujar are included in this exhibition.
Noticing the wide age range of people visiting Looking at Music: Side 2, I asked a nearby teenager, "Which of these artists, musicians and writers were you familiar with before you came to this show?" She pointed to the Sonic Youth record cover, Confusion is Sex, and speaking with a Russian accent said, "My Dad has this album. I grew up with this. It's great!"
Looking at Music: Side 2 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City continues through November 30, 2009. For more information, please visit: http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/959
Julie Ashcraft A.K.A. Jigsawnovich is a writer, artist and musician living in New York City. Her articles about music, art and politics have been published by ArtSlant.com, TehranBureau.com, Iranian.com, Farsihiphop.com, and Jigsawnovich.blogspot.com.