Nasher Museum

I’m in Durham, NC this week enjoying some time with family. Yesterday we visited the new Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, a relatively new museum, having opened in October 2005.

I was really interested to see Christopher Marclay’s Video Quartet, a large, 4-panel audio video installation that the artist summarizes with the statement “What you see is what you hear.” (Each of the four panels in the continuous, horizontal exhibit is 8’x10′ – it’s quite grand.) The whole presentation runs a little over 14 minutes long, and during that time each panel weaves a musical tapestry of film, documentary, and other video clips – all related in some way to music.

There are black and white bits of Dizzy Gillespie and other jazz greats playing, interspersed with scenes from Mr. Holland’s Opus, and The Piano. Live recital footage featuring violinist Isaac Stern are paired with guitars and violins (on alternating video panels) being tossed, dropped, and smashed. And, sometimes played.

The collective effect is mesmerizing, not only for the visuals but also for the seamlessness of the accompanying sounds from each clip. It’s a conversation of images, and I expect it offers a different experience with every visit depending on the choices one makes of which elements to focus on. Fascinating, how the individual parts take on new dimension of meaning in this new context. 

Another exhibit caught my eye, on the main floor of the Nasher just outside the gallery that houses Marclay’s Video Quartet. You may remember around two weeks ago I mentioned (in the post “bilingual +) that I had visited the Fleming Museum in Burlington, for an exhibit pairing Afro-Peruvian visual artist William Cordova with poet Major Jackson. Their effort, more than bilingual, offered a mutual exporation of cultural and racial expectations and standards.

Well it was a pleasant surprise to walk out of the gallery yesterday to find another work by William Cordova installed on the Nasher’s central floor! A towering stack of 3,000 33 1/3rpm black and red vinyl records sits atop a wooden platform made of piece board. The title? Greatest Hits. There are smashed bits and shards strewn around the base of the tower, along with a clay pot, a candy wrapper, and other cultural mementos. They’re more like offcasts, or discards, actually…a sort of shrine constructed from the remnants and remains of an experience rather than representatives of experiences in themselves.

About the work, Cordova says “My focus in creating the Greatest Hits sculpture was to bring up and address the deeper, more physical understanding of our lack of historical memory by referencing popular culture labels more often used for music compilations like ‘greatest hits’.”

Like Marclay’s Video Quartet, Cordova’s Greatest Hits is a wholly new expression crafted from the reassembled parts of existing pieces of art. In their new form, the pieces work on both musical and visual levels to inform a new understanding of the cultural elements they represent.  

Congratulations to Duke University for providing a beautiful, classy space like the Nasher Museum for artistic exchanges like this!

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Read more about the history of the Nasher        

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