On Tuesday, September 17th, I was invited to the Press Preview of a new exhibition opening at the Whitney Museum of American Art showcasing the artist, Jason Moran.
Here’s a bit from the Press Release:
The first solo museum show of Jason Moran (b. 1975, Houston, Texas), the interdisciplinary artist who grounds his work in music composition, will make its New York debut at the Whitney this September. Jason Moran presents the range of art Moran has explored, from his sculptures and drawings to collaborations with visual artists to performance and video.
The exhibition, an immersive installation that will fill the Whitney’s eighth floor galleries from September 20, 2019 through January 5, 2020, will be activated by in-gallery musical performances by the artist himself and by other musicians throughout the run of the show.
(This part was not included in the preview, but I really want to see the Kara Walker calliope. I don’t even know what a calliope is, but it sounds amazing. It’s at the very least, fun to say.)
Two marquee events unique to the Whitney’s presentation will be the New York premiere of Kara Walker’s Katastwóf Karavan (2018), a steam-powered calliope housed in a parade wagon, and a special twentieth- anniversary concert for Moran’s trio, The Bandwagon.
As the elevator doors to the 8th floor open, you are first greeted with the sounds of jazz. I particularly recall piano. It isn’t aggressively loud, but adds an undercurrent to the experience of the first series, ‘Run’ from Moran.
Progressing from left to right, framed along the contrasting black wall, these are large scale dry charcoal on gambit paper created with the use of piano notes underneath the paper. It creates a sort of chunky blockish effect, like train tracks, mechanically even in what is otherwise delicate. There are tiny dots and traces of the charcoal spreading and jumping from where they were likely originally placed. The pigment itself moves in an undeliberate way, fragmenting even under glass, the way small details of memory change or fade over time. There is a sense of improvised highs and lows along these horizontally-stretched pieces which match the music playing from the video screen on the furthest wall of the gallery space; the left hand plunks out the rhythmic chords which ground the trills, suspensions, and accents of the higher notes of a piano scale.
Some piece are used with only black charcoal, some just blue. My personal favorite was black charcoal stretching thickly along the horizon line, with an orange, reddish bloom gently behind the black. It reminded me of a train traveling along at sunrise. Or sunset. There is a powerful sense of movement and travel in the series, within each piece itself and the series as a whole. Another favorite contrasts the heavy use of monochrome color scheme with a brightly pink background and blue charcoal. The effect is one of fantasy, which to me felt like a trip to an imagined place more saturated with wonder and delight- a memory made more beautiful through nostalgia or dream more desirable because of obsession. The series, intended to “give presence to sound” was to me, a reminder of music as both a mobilizing force, and key to the abstract provocation of emotion-based bursts and fading of memory.
Occasionally, when I attend events like this and I’m unfamiliar with the appearance of the featured artist, I like to play a game. I call it, ‘guess who the artist is before they make their opening statements’. I am often wrong. This time, however, I could tell right away.
He was wearing a super-cool jacket, but that isn’t what gave him away. It was his posture. Jazz musicians always, in my opinion, exist in their own physical framework in a way that reflects the mood of the music and dance form. There is a coolness, an alertness, a comfortable dropped center of gravity. After he was introduced, Jason addressed the press and spoke a little about his intention and process with this exhibition.
He spoke about meeting two influential women, his partner Alicia and curator on this exhibition, Adrienne, when his mother died and how they provided the intention, a ‘way out of the mess we continue to be in’. The larger part of the gallery showcases sculptures, magically-moving instruments, a vintage jukebox, and huge video projections of collaborations an concerts. These are meant to pay homage to iconic landmarks in jazz music culture. Jason described them as ‘humble places that become a treasure, a basement that becomes a citadel’.
As I walked into the cavernous space, being aware of jazz history and having listened to Jason’s words about humble beginning, I wondered if seeing these works on such a grand, elevated stage as the beautiful Whitney Museum was part of the cultural ‘elevation’ often overlooked in the lineage of jazz history in America. However, being able to see these tributes to jazz creation of the past and current allowed tome pause, to be present with watching the notes on the piano playing Jason’s music with invisible hands. As a dancer, I sometimes think about whose famous feet have graced a stage that I stand on, what evolution and lineage I get to join.
- I bet that lineage is less linear, and more like this: I am basically Natalia Makarova- Dance masters; Circles of Influence
- History and even artistic representations of history tend to ‘White Wash’ Jazz- here, they did it in club culture. On a White Plate: Fish’s Eddy, Club Cummings Studio 54
In his statements to the crowd, Jason said that New York was his “city of dreams, where the music lived every hour of every day”. I think that when something is so immersive and all-engulfing, it can be difficult to appreciate. Seeing these frozen moments in time was, to me, a lucky opportunity of forced attention on the voices and efforts that give jazz music a past and continuous presence in this city. It is, as Jason says, living here every day.
What I loved:
The constant music paying, not so loudly that it’s distracting but enough to enhance the experience. I wish whoever does volume control for the Whitney could also fix all music volume levels at every bar in New York for old useless ears like mine. “What did you say?”
One of the pieces from Run entitled, ‘Between the World and Me’. #I Can Haz Esspensiff Art Plz???
The piano with moving keys that I wanted to ay my hand on and pretend like it was me playing. Or me playing, but with the spirit of Donny Hathaway moving through me like Patrick Swazee/Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost.
*I have some video on Instagram: @jessicaruhlin
The amazing stories Jason told in his statements. Apparently there was a bouncer at a jazz venue called the ‘Slug Club’ that used to hit people in the mouth with a chain if he didn’t want you to come inside. I know what I’m getting my doorman for Christmas this year.
The plaques that describe the series and intentions without pseudo-intellectual pompous language that makes even me- who is relatively educated- feel like a stupid imbecile.
The video footage with interviews and rehearsal footage and performance that shows process and product and lets us see how this artist approaches art and creation and collaboration. There is a video with Joan Jonas. Need I say more?
The space- it is not overcrowded. I could take everything in and wander. Exceptional job to the museum of making it a pleasant experience to take in this art outside of where it lives and showcase it beautifully.
More whitney museum Previews: Andy Warhol
- I maintain that the album Bitches Brew is inaccessible. You suck Miles Davis! Wait, what? Critics aren’t allows to say/think/ever dream of writing this? New Dance Horizons 4
more art/ artists in the archives: Serious Art an Other Doodles