Posts Tagged ‘William Cordova’

Nasher Museum

May 15, 2009

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!


Read more about the history of the Nasher        

bilingual +

April 30, 2009

One of the most meaningful concert experiences I’ve ever had was a few years ago with the LA Opera: a rare staging of Arnold Schoenberg’s unfinished operatic masterpiece, Moses und Aron. Austere and deeply stirring in its musicality, it relies primarily on text from Exodus to tell the story of the two brothers whose sacrifices and symbolic identities (of ‘righteousness’ and ‘peace’, respectively) lie at the foundation of Judaism.

"more than bilingual" exhibit brochure

"more than bilingual" exhibit brochure

The opera’s backstory is just as interesting. It’s the work of a displaced German Jew who returned to his faith in 1933 just after he finished work on the opera, even as the drums crescendoed with the advance of the second World War. It’s thought that Moses und Aron represented Schoenberg’s attempt to work out the problems of a Jew in the modern world*.

Today I visited Burlington’s Fleming Museum for “more than bilingual“, the new collaboration between poet Major Jackson and Peruvian visual artist William Cordova. There is a natural affinity in their work, and I found it to have the same kinds of dynamics at work as those in Moses und Aron. The obvious comparison here would be the juxtaposition of Major Jackson’s spoken words with William Cordova’s visual narrative, much as Moses’ spoken role in the opera is offset and complemented by the fluid artistry of Aron’s singing tenor.

But the comparison also works on another level, and that’s with the common underlying themes of cultural memory and disenfranchisement, societal labels, and racial identity.

One panel of Cordova’s 25-piece grid Sangarara is covered by the repeated single word “Landó”, the West African music/dance form that came to South America with slaves in the 1800s. The piece is paired with Major Jackson‘ s poem ‘Toro Mata‘, itself named after the classic (landó) Peruvian folksong, and referencing the makeshift instruments the slaves created to disguise their music in the face Spanish prohibition. Can’t use drums, because they’re too resonant of the African music from home? Alright then, how about a Spanish shipping crate rigged to work as a drum? Enter the cajón, the box drum that’s now a staple of the Afro-Peruvian sound.

Literature and music, words and art. Whether it’s Moses und Aron or poetry paired with paintings, there are infinite connections to be made – and found – in the name of artistic pursuit.

More than Bilingual runs through May 10th at Burlington’s Fleming Museum.


* Aaron Tugendhaft, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron

For listening:

Novalima: Coba Coba – Cumbancha, 2009

Peru Negro: Sangre de un Don – World Connection, 1999  *includes “Toro Mata”

Schoenberg: Moses und Aron – Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Georg Solti/Decca 00994102

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