“This is going to be a very visually stimulating show, so I hope you all dropped some acid or smoked some pot before you came here tonight.”
Sufjan Stevens – who was at the Orpheum Theatre November 11th and 12th rocking a futuristic outfit of multicolored streamers and some blindingly silver parachute pants – has come a long way from his awkwardly shy, flourishingly indie stage shows (complete with cheerleaders and kite wing costumes) of 2006. In the past three month, the man has released an hour-long EP, All Delighted People – which draws inspiration from Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” – as well as an hour and a half long concept album, The Age of Adz (pronounced “odds”) – about the apocalypse. Or heartbreak. Or the apocalypse of heartbreak. No one’s really sure about that (and Sufjan definitely isn’t the person to ask: “I confuse the end of the world with heartbreak, and heartbreak with the end of the world,” he’s said).
I had the rapturous pleasure of seeing good old Soof last Thursday, and while it should be obvious by now that I’ll find any excuse to talk about music (and more than any excuse to talk about Sufjan), there’s a bit more than his four-year musical transformation that makes Stevens worth posting about.
First of all, Louisiana-born artist Royal Robertson painted the cover art for The Age of Adz, pictured above. Robertson, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and died in 1997, saw himself as a prophet (identifying himself as “Libra Patriarch Prophet Lord Archbishop Apostle Visionary Mystic Psychic Saint Royal Robertson”) and claimed he could foresee the end of days. His visions drove his painting, and most of his pieces have distinctly mythical/apocryphal subject matter. In a 10 minute long diatribe about Robertson’s life, Sufjan explained how the artist’s work influenced the electronic sound that he had been toying with for the past few years, after releasing the folktastic Illinoise in 2006, and The Avalanche shortly thereafter.
Seeing Robertson’s paintings gave Sufjan the push that he needed. The sixth track on Adz, “Get Real Get Right,” was written for Robertson. “With gratitude and love to Adell,” reads the last line of text in the vinyl booklet for the album, for Robertson’s wife Adell.
It is interesting to see artists making use of and showcasing the art world with their careers (see, my post on Kanye). Not to imply that this is a distinctly new phenomenon, but the application and contextualization of music through what is generally considered fine art is worth noting. In many ways, it seems as though it is necessary to understand the art of art in order to also understand the art of music. If Sufjan had not discovered Robertson’s paintings, we may very well not have an Age of Adz at all.
As for the show itself (pictured below), Sufjan’s performance combined the aural with the visual. Cartoon images of rockets and stars shook and spiraled past in the background while Sufjan and his 10 stage companions performed in neon leis and clothes. Just when the audience began to really get into the song (standing in seats, singing, and even dancing, which – as anyone who’s been to the Orpheum can attest – is a feat) confetti rained down on us all.
And then balloons.
And then Sufjan & co. started throwing beach balls at us.
Continental Drift (Iron filings on clear, lighted plastic) Mona Hatoum The Entire World as a Foreign Land Tate Britain, 2000
22-year-old Beirut-born Mona Hatoum was on a trip to London in 1975 when civil war broke out in her home country. She was unable to return to Lebanon until the war ended – 15 years later – and was forced to live in the UK as an exile.
During her time in London, Hatoum trained at the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art. Today, she is one of the world’s most intriguing contemporary artists, her work mainly falling under the category of kinetic – or moveable - art. Her mediums range from installations and sculpture to video, photography, and works on paper.
Her career has been characterized by displacement. Her art career began in the ‘80s with performance art, much of which focused intently on the body. Since then, she has concentrated on creating larger-scale installations with the goal of engaging viewers in conflicting emotions: Desire and revulsion, fear and fascination, intrigue and disgust. Her sculptures take familiar, everyday objects and transform them into foreign, threatening, and dangerous devices.
Much of her work also focuses on the earth and world as a disconnected, foreign place. In 2000, her work The Entire World as a Foreign Land was at the inaugural launch of the Tate Britain. The title is based on a conversation she had with literary theorist Edward Said, who said, “The exile knows that in a secular and contingent world, homes are always provisional. Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar territory, can also become prisons.”
Hatoum explores notions of the relationship between individual identity and cultural or geographic identity, as well as feelings of – or feelings in hostility to – belonging.
Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (which is definitely worth a visit if you haven’t already gone - and Emerson students get in for free!) boasts an assortment of both contemporary and non-contemporary art. Once, I randomly came across across a dim and massive domed room with wooden pillars and giant carved Buddhas staring out from each wall. I haven’t been able to find that room since. The place is literally a labyrinth of art.
While the MFA is constantly showcasing some of the most nifty contemporary art around, my current interest in the museum lies in some of its older artifacts - but for a “new” reason.
Over the past few years, the museum has been working on a “Building The New MFA” campaign, for which it managed to raise $504 million. The New MFA opens this month (week-long events begin on the 12th and an official free public open house is being held on the 20th), with new wings and public spaces designed by world-famous London-based Foster + Partners architects.
Malcolm Rogers, the director of the museum, has come under some heat since he first took office in 1994 (mainly for incidents involving loaning 21 Monet paintings to the Bellagio hotel/casino in Las Vegas and his decisions to showcase various rock musicians’ guitars and Ralph Lauren’s luxury car collection). His support for The New MFA has, however, garnered him some fans.
Possibly one of the most interesting pieces of The New MFA is its Art of the Americas collection. In a recent interview, Rogers explained how the goal of the new wing is to “[tell] the story of America in a slightly new way.” Installations span from pre-Columbian to modern artifacts and include Spanish colonial, Latin American colonial, and African American Slave art. Basically, the wing is going to present one of the most cohesive and extensive collections of American art ever to be showcased anywhere in the world.
The wing features 53 galleries spread over four floors, with pieces dropping in age as you move further up. The collection will officially open to the public with the rest of The New MFA on November 20th.
Definitely consider stopping by on or after the grand opening (and don’t forget your Emerson ID if you do). If this post hasn’t convinced you yet, you can check out the Art of the Americas website here.
To keep with the theme of what is actually contemporary within the tenuous realm of art, I bring to you this week news on none other than our (sometimes least) favorite rap mogul, Kanye West.
Imma let myself finish though, don’t worry, but before I get into the newsworthy, I feel the need to give some background:
New Hampshire native George Condo has had paintings and sculptures featured in a slew of museums all over the world (NYC’s MoMA and Guggenheim, London’s Tate Modern, Paris’s Ministere de la Culture, and Barcelona’s Museu d’Art Contemporani to name a few). Condo tends to employ a cubist-inspired style in his works (think Picasso), and also seems to often opt for a surreal-esque subject matter (Particle pick up).
What’s the connection between Condo and Kanye, you ask? Early last week, Kanye tweeted that the cover of his new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, due out at the end of November, had been banned in the USA.
George Condo is the man behind the cover art.
Condo also produced artwork for the album’s first single, “Power” (check it here and here) and second single “Runaway” (check it here), a 35 minute video for which (supposedly inspired by Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse) which premiered last Saturday to mixed reviews.
MBDTF apparently follows the story concept of Kanye (but named Griffin) falling in love with a winged woman (who he has repeatedly referred to as a phoenix, though there doesn’t seem to be much phoenix-like about her apart from the wings), and is exemplified not only in Condo’s cover art, but also in Italian-born artist and filmmaker Marco Brambilla’s “Power” video. The video – or, I should say, “moving picture,” as Kanye calls it – features the rapper standing behind a phoenix woman, with assorted scantily-clad people doing surrealish things around him.
The exact details of the cover’s banning are still pretty vague, but I can – for once – appreciate Kanye’s attempt at invention, as well as his inclusion and exposure of the “art world” in his music.
“They don’t want me chilling on the couch with my phoenix!” Kanye tweeted last Sunday, with a link to the cover (pictured above). Is a painting of a butt and nipple really too much for America to handle?