New multisensory art exhibition opens at Peabody Essex Museum

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New multisensory art exhibition opens at Peabody Essex Museum
Carlos Garaicoa, Partitura, 2017. Sound, video-animation, music stands, tablets, paper, ink. Installation view at Azkuna Zentroa, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua San Gimignano. Photo by Oak Taylor-Smith.

SALEM, MASS.- The Peabody Essex Museum opened a new installation in its Jeffrey P. Beale Gallery, a space dedicated to immersive art experiences. Multidisciplinary artist Carlos Garaicoa, one of the most widely exhibited Cuban artists, has imagined a new kind of orchestra made up of 40 musicians he discovered performing in the streets of Madrid and Bilbao. Making its North American premiere at PEM, Partitura weaves together artists from disparate cultural backgrounds and musical traditions -- from West African drummers to accordion players and European opera singers. Carlos Garaicoa: Partitura is on view at PEM from March 8, 2020 through January 3, 2021.

“The experience of cities is of particular importance to Carlos Garaicoa,” says Trevor Smith, PEM’s Curator of the Present Tense, who has known the artist for 20 years. “The emotional core of his work lies in the tension between the aspirational cosmopolitan ideals which have long attracted people to urban centers, and the often gritty realities they find there. Street musicians are one way that the city is enlivened through creative expression. Although the musicians who participated in Partitura were filmed in Madrid and Bilbao, their experience has universal resonance and invites us to consider how we choose to interact with our own built environments.”

Forty music stands are arranged in semi-circles like a virtual orchestra. On each stand an abstract drawing on score paper is paired with a street musician’s performance played back through a video tablet and headphones. Throughout the gallery a composition by Esteban Puebla is heard that is assembled from these individual performances. This technique of remixing pre-recorded sources nods to contemporary DJ culture but it has its origins in musique concrète (concrete music) of the 1940s. Puebla used audio recordings and other electronic effects that go beyond traditional forms of orchestration. A video triptych featuring an abstract animation of the music reveals how the composition weaves individual performances together. The result is a collective portrait of creative expression that is surprising, joyful and revelatory.

“The idea of pulling together all of these different musical traditions and degrees of talent into a single composition is a very utopian gesture,” says Smith. “It asks us to consider how inspiring beauty can be created from great diversity.”

Carlos Garaicoa was born in 1967 in Havana, Cuba. The artist studied thermodynamics before his mandatory military service, during which he worked as a draughtsman. Garaicoa then attended the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana from 1989 to 1994. Since the early 1990s, Garaicoa has employed photography, performance, drawing, sculpture, installation, text, and video to comment on architecture's reflection of and effect on the political, economic, and cultural reality of cities. As an artist in residence at Art in General in New York, Garaicoa created the series When a Desire Resembles Nothing, which offered up a comparison of Havana and New York City. He has participated in numerous international biennials including Havana, Sao Paolo, Venice, Johannesburg, Moscow as well as Documentas 11 and 14.

Under the guidance of curator Trevor Smith, PEM’s Present Tense Initiative celebrates the central role that creative expression plays in shaping our world. The Present Tense Initiative engages leading creative agents and thinkers to cultivate innovative experiences fueled by the intersection of cultures, disciplines, and technologies. By encouraging innovation and fostering new forms of creativity, PEM seeks to push the boundaries of what a museum experience can be.

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