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Looking at Music 3.0 Explores the Influence of Music on Contempory Art in NY and the Birth of "Remix Culture"
The Residents. Freak Show. 1995. Interactive CD-ROM. The Museum of Modern Art Library. Image courtesy the artists.

NEW YORK, NY.- Looking at Music 3.0, the third in a series of exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art exploring the influence of music on contemporary art practices, focuses on New York in the 1980s and 1990s and the birth of "remix culture." The exhibit hopes to promote music and those who attend to take music lessons. The exhibition is on view in The Yoshiko and Akio Morita Media Gallery from February 16 through June 6, 2011. Highlighting a unique range of activity within the city during those decades, the exhibition addresses the birth of hip hop; new articulations of feminism as seen in video chain letters, zines, and raucous art and music performances; the continued artistic development of music videos; and the rise of the digital domain, where sound and image acquired a curious parity as sampled bits of electronic information, raising the curtain on new creative possibilities. Approximately 70 works from a wide range of artists and musicians are on view, including works by the Beastie Boys, Kathleen Hanna and Le Tigre, Keith Haring, Miranda July, Christian Marclay, Steven Parrino, and Run-DMC. A film exhibition closely linked to the artists and works on view in the gallery exhibition runs from March 2 to March 10, 2011, in MoMA's Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters. The exhibition is organized by Barbara London, Associate Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art, The Museum of Modern Art.

Ms. London states: "In this dynamic time period, imaginative forms of street art spread across the five boroughs, articulating the counter-culture tenor of the times. As the city transitioned from bankruptcy to solvency, graffiti, media, and performance artists took advantage of low rents and collaborated on ad hoc works shown in alternative spaces and underground clubs. Appropriation, also known as remixing, thrived."

The exhibition begins with a recording from the German band Kraftwerk, the track Trans-Europe Express (1977). Widely known for their pioneering role in electronic music, Kraftwerk used custom-made vocoders, synthesizers, and computer-speech software, introducing notable innovations into music technology. Trans-Europe Express, which plays in a loop at an audio station, paved the way for many of the musicians and artists featured within the exhibition, where it is sampled twice: in Planet Rock (1982), by Afrika Bambaataa and the Sonic Soul Force, and in (Always Be My) Sunshine (1997), by Jay-Z featuring Foxy Brown and Babyface. Further exploring New York–based hip hop artists, the exhibition includes music by the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, and the Wu-Tang Clan, with audio tracks by each of the artists playing at audio stations. Beginning with neighborhood parties in the South Bronx in the early 1970s, hip hop eventually expanded the geography of New York’s Manhattan-centric music scene and became the dominant cultural movement among urban minorities in the 1980s.

The exhibition next looks at the ways musicians and artists responded to the city in the 1980s and early 1990s. With New York bankrupt, the AIDS crisis at its zenith, and drug use wreaking havoc on many neighborhoods, a wave of activism swept through the art and music worlds. Artists addressed topics such as the ongoing discrimination of the black community, as in Spike Lee’s video for Public Enemy's Fight the Power (1989), and the stigmatization of AIDS as denounced by Keith Haring in his poster IGNORANCE = FEAR / SILENCE = DEATH (1989). Graffiti art leapt from the street to the page, as in a print by graffiti artist Lee Quinones, CENTURY OF THE WIND (1991), included in the exhibition.

The next section focuses on Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine, launched in 1983 as a subscription-only bimonthly on the Lower East Side, a rough area of the city and a hotbed of creative activity. The brainchild of visual artist Joseph Nechtaval, curator Claudia Gould, and composer Carol Parkinson, and produced through the experimental recording studio Harvestworks/Studio PASS, Tellus magazine supported some of the city’s most innovative collaborations between artists and musicians for almost 20 years. The exhibition includes sound files from Tellus playing at an audio station, adjoined with the Double LP compilation TellusTools with a cover design by Christian Marclay.

A range of works by Christian Marclay, along with music by Brian Eno, David Byrne, and John Zorn, are part of the exhibition; each a prominent figure in New York’s experimental art and music scenes of the 1980s and early 1990s. All four were interested in experimental composition and brought art theory to new music. A set of collaged vinyl records by Marclay, Recycled Records (1981-85), is on display, along with tracks by Eno and Byrne, who pioneered ambient and non-Western music crossovers, playing at audio stations. Zorn, a distinguished avant-garde composer, fused multiple genres, including jazz and punk, working with his band Naked City. A recording of Speedfreaks, a song performed by Naked City, plays in a loop within the exhibition.

As audio and video technology advanced and television was affected by MTV, artists reflected upon how commercial entities controlled mass communication and used technology to shape modern culture. Karen Finley, Dara Birnbaum, and Martha Rosler utilized this technology to criticize stereotypes of women promoted in the mass media, as seen in Birnbaum’s Pop-Pop Video (1980); an audio track by Finley, Tales of Taboo (1986); and a plate and track from Rosler’s untitled print portion of the portfolio ARTIFACTS AT THE END OF THE DECADE (1981). The limits of technology and its potential as a tool for activism are explored by the video work of Tom Kalin, John Kelly, and Bob Beck, including Kalin’s video Nomads (1993), Kelly’s video Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte, #1 (1986), and Beck’s video Girlfriend in a Coma (1980). The wide distribution possibilities that video offered (and their continuation in today’s distribution through the Internet) are a cornerstone of Seth Price's practice. His video NJS Map (2001–02), which traces the genealogy of one period in pop music called “New Jack Swing,” is related to his ongoing project Title Variable, comprising several music compilations and published articles investigating technology's impact on music production.

Four music videos projected in the following section exemplify the vigor and effort that were put into this new art form: Keith Haring making a hand-drawn, theatrical garment for Grace Jones in I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect for You) (1986); Diamanda Galás channeling both performance art and goth metal for Double-Barrel Prayer (1988); Long Island–based duo Eric B. and Rakim's extensive sampling from James Brown awakening other hip hop interest in "The Godfather of Soul"; and the video for A Tribe Called Quest's Scenario, highlighting the band's playful and humorous approach to hip hop.

After the second wave of the Feminist Movement in the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s, so-called third-wave Feminism emerged from its point of genesis, the riot grrrl capital Portland, Oregon, in the 1990s. Inspired by the ethos of DIY (Do-It-Yourself), young women formed impromptu punk bands; wrote, pasted together, and photocopied self-published zines; and created their own independent methods of distribution. Several examples of those zines are on view. Performance artist, filmmaker, and writer Miranda July founded Joanie 4 Jackie in 1995 as an informal organization and active network, compiling video chain letters that gave young women the courage and confidence to continue making movies; a related poster and zine are on view in the gallery. A recording by Le Tigre also plays at an audio station; the band fused New Wave, electronic dance music, and the angry punk sound of the riot grrrl era with humorous lyrics to confront such social ills as police brutality and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s crackdowns in millennial New York.

In this era of genre-crossing, many musicians were active participants in the art scene, and vice-versa. Sonic Youth worked with artist Tony Oursler on the video for Tunic (Song for Karen) (1990), which plays on a monitor in the exhibition. Tony Conrad, a film, video, and sound pioneer and composer, formed the art band XXX Macarena with fellow artists Jutta Koether and John Miller. Conrad’s video In Line (1986) is joined by a record sleeve from XXX Macarena. Fisherspooner, an electroclash performance duo that formed in 1998 and frequently performed in art galleries, skewered retro electropop and early Pet Shop Boys in their action-packed events, and the record sleeve from their album #1 (2001) is on view.

The rise of computer culture and wider access to new technologies in the mid-1990s brought with it a host of new possibilities for artists to explore. The three interactive pieces on display are examples of how artists harnessed new tools to bring audiences into their work. Via an interactive CD-ROM, Puppet Hotel (1995), visitors have access to performance artist/composer Laurie Anderson’s modified violins, and are invited to play a tune. A CD-ROM by the Residents, Freak Show (1994), makes the answering machines and private diaries tucked away in freak show performers’ caravans available. In Perry Hoberman’s Faraday’s Ghost (2000), a bar code wand activates the distinctive sounds of everyday appliances — toasters, radios, and vacuum cleaners.

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