25 June 2001

Preview: ART/MUSIC: Rock Pop and Techno

We are used to hearing rock stars refer to themselves, often portentiously, as ‘artists’. And indeed what hopeful musician doesn’t aspire to the heady status of recording artist. Yet no matter how aesthetic the pose, we still call their wares music, not art.

Now a new exhibition begs to differ, seeking to blur the boundaries and reveal the artful underbelly of popular music in the 1990s and beyond.
ART/MUSIC: Rock Pop and Techno, opening this week (Mar 21) at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, examines the convergence of the visual arts and popular music through the work of international and local artists who make music the subject of their art, and, conversely, make music for an art-literate audience.
“The territory we’re covering here is diverse to say the least,” says the exhibition’s curator, Sue Cramer, who traveled to the studios and clubs of Berlin, London and New York to source works for the exhibition. “We’re presenting artists who use recordings or performance or installation to deal with the idea of music, or with music as a theme in their wider practice, or even just what it means to be a fan of popular music.”
Only don’t go expecting to sight rare Super 8 footage of the Velvet Underground hanging round Andy’s Factory, or an installation of Lennon-era bags by Yoko Ono. Nor will you find the sunday paintings of Britney Spears.
“It’s not an historical show but a survey of contemporary art practices,” says Cramer, sticking to her museum’s brief. Instead, “these are visual artists who are working today in diverse ways with forms of music that are popular today.”
Headlining the show is legendary New York DJ and artist Christian Marclay who since the late 1970s has attracted a cult following for his use of the turntable in both his art and music. With a business card that reads ‘record player’, Marclay is better described as a “sound sculptor” or “dadaist DJ” and his appearance is a coup for Cramer and key to the exhibition.
“Christian really is a central figure in this whole underground art/music movement,” says Cramer. Influenced by the Fluxus movement, (the 1960s art movement which typically and chaotically deployed numerous art forms simultaneously) and Punk, Marclay “never studied music,” notes Cramer, “and he found a freedom in the punk idea that you didn’t have to be academically trained to produce art. In fact, in an experimental mode, it can actually be a hindrance to be trained.”
Marclay uses the objects of popular music – records, CDs, turntables – to create what he calls “a visualization of sound”.
“It’s great that he’s coming here and will be able to perform as well as mount his exhibition which is a floor work of CDs.”
Marclay will join Lee Ranaldo, guitarist for the seminal 1990s punk band Sonic Youth, in a special one-off live concert at the Sydney Opera House the night before the main exhibition opens. The concert will be complemented by free live performances by local Sydney DJs, to be held each Sunday at the MCA for the duration of the exhibition.
Cramer cites Sonic Youth’s experimental trailblazing in “noise” as a touchstone for many of the artists included in the show. Indeed another member of the band, guitarist Thurston Moore, returns to reprise his 2000 collaboration with local artist Marco Fusinato held last year at Sydney’s Sarah Cottier Gallery. The band also features in the inclusion of Sonic Matters, Sonic Kollaborations - a self-contained exhibition of printed material, videos and recordings originally brought together for Printed Matter Bookstore in New York.
Cramer hopes the sheer scope of the show - from American Charles Long’s sci-fi inspired collaborations with UK pop-group Stereolab, to New Zealand artist Julian Dashper’s abstract paintings on drum skins, to Australian Kathy Temin’s installation which simulates a teenage girl’s bedroom tribute to Kylie Minogue - will “generate a sense of excitement for what possibilities there are for music and art.”
With more than 27 international and local artists exhibiting, spent art lovers can recover from over-stimulation in ART/MUSIC’s very own “chill-out room”. There they can listen to a range of recordings made or produced by visual artists while viewing a display of artist-designed CD and album covers.
Sydney DJ duo Sub Bass Snarl has organized the free Sunday performances where, in among the dub, electronic and jazz sounds, they will find time to lead discussions on the “cultural politics” of DJing in Sydney.
While ART/MUSIC dovetails perfectly with a institution seeking to remain relevant to a younger demographic, Cramer says ART/MUSIC “has its own integrity as a show – it’s a real topic with people and history and ideas.” The range of works on offer “will stimulate all ages and tastes and will stretch from experimental to accessible”.
However, Cramer may have unwittingly tapped into a nascent curatorial trend: NONE MORE BLACKER, the current exhibition (closing Mar 24) at 200 Gertrude Street Gallery in Melbourne featuring, among others, prominent young-turks Adam Cullen and Ricky Swallow, is subtitled: “New Australian Art Influenced by Heavy Metal and Glam Rock”.

ART/MUSIC: rock, pop, techno
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 21 March - 24 June, 2001.

Presented by the MCA in association with the Sydney Opera House
The Studio, Sydney Opera House, 9:00pm, Tuesday 20th March 2001

First published in The Bulletin

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