Looking at Music was borne from the recognition that music has served as a creative nucleus from which other forms of art have evolved and prospered. The exhibition presents works created between the early 1960s and the mid 1970s, which employ music as a compositional device, inspiration, and material. Comprised of objects solely from the MoMA’s collection, the broad selection of works includes music videos, artist books, storyboards, audio recordings, drawings, and manipulated everyday objects by renowned musicians, performance and visual artists.
Aptly positioned at the start of the exhibition are three score drawings by John Cage, the forefather of musical experimentation. Amongst the works trailing Cage’s decisive pieces are a collaboration between Joseph Beuys and Nam June Paik to create a score in memoriam of Fluxus founder George Maciunas, and a film documenting Lucinda Childs’s Vehicle from the seminal performance series “9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering” (1966) for which hi-tech engineers joined forces with artists. Laurie Anderson – an obvious selection to illustrate this concept – presents her Self-Playing Violin (1974) that was reconstructed to hold a built-in speaker and amplifier that can play back recorded music. In an adjacent vitrine of artist books, Anderson recounts a performance in which she utilized the violin; In Duets on Ice (1974/1975) the source of half of the music came from the violin, while the other half was performed live as she stood on ice skates that were frozen into blocks of ice.
The final portion of the exhibition primarily showcases music videos that were created by the musicians themselves, at a time when a popular platform for such work was yet to exist. The Beatles’ Penny Lane (1967), Devo’s eerie Secret Agent Man (1976) and The Residents’ The Third Reich ‘n’ Roll (1975) are brought forth as prime examples of the cross-disciplinary tendencies of that era. In our demanding times of polished technical mastery, it is energizing to view such raw representations that evolved from an honest and intuitive process of collaboration.
Images: TOP: Lucinda Childs, Vehicle (1966), 16mm film transferred to video (black and white, sound). 10:17 min., © 2008 Experiments in Art and Technology, New York. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art, New York. LEFT: The Residents, The Third Reich 'n' Roll (1975), Video (black and white, sound). 4:15 min. Courtesy of The Residents and Museum of Modern Art, New York. RIGHT: Laurie Anderson, Notebook (1977), Offset lithography. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Modern Art, New York.