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We managed to catch Dara Friedman's tremendous "Musical" on its last day at Gavin Brown. Words fail me; this is the most incredible thing I've scene in an art gallery -- ever. If it screens anywhere again, just go. Ken Johnson's Times review is here; the Public Art Fund page for it is here; and below is an excerpt from a longer article about the project's genesis as a live performance piece that captures the feel of it, published in the NYTimes last year:
An image from "Musical."
Turning All of Manhattan Into a Broadway Stage
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
Published: September 29, 2007
Grand Central Terminal, 3:30 on a recent afternoon. Tourists move in tentative orbits around the main concourse. Executives dart to ticket windows, luggage rolling behind them. And a pretty young woman in a button-down wool sweater and houndstooth skirt steps out on one of the stairways, and begins to sing.
"I used to visit all the very gay places," she begins, "Those come-what-may places/Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life."
The song is Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life," and the singer is the 23-year-old Grace McLean. She is one of the stars of "Musical," a film project, concert, sociology experiment or series of happenings, however you want to look at it.
You may even have seen it over the past two weeks, or heard it over the usual concert of trucks and horns: a soldier on Fifth Avenue two weeks ago singing about the street where you live, a man in a cape singing a traditional Korean song in Koreatown, or a woman on the Upper East Side on an otherwise quiet Tuesday night suddenly crooning about flying to the moon.
"It's some form of social protest, no doubt," explained a middle-aged man to his colleagues as the woman passed.
"Musical" is put together by the Miami artist Dara Friedman, who works primarily with film. (She has a work currently at the Museum of Modern Art and recently had a show at the Kitchen in Chelsea.) Last year Rochelle Steiner, the director of the Public Art Fund, which commissions and presents exhibitions in public spaces in New York, encouraged Ms. Friedman to do something for the fund.
Ms. Friedman didn't want to do the old projection-of-an-art-film-onto-a-screen-in-Times Square kind of thing. She was inspired by Walt Whitman's poems about Manhattan, an idea about giving what might otherwise be private and personal performances a chance to be heard in public and a memory of watching a woman break into "Amazing Grace" amid the hubbub of Grand Central years ago.
"What I'm really interested in doing," Ms. Friedman said, "is making sure the spectator pays attention, forcing you to be excited. Alter somebody's rhythm, where, all of a sudden, you're paying attention."
So arose the idea of "Musical": She would film people bursting into song all over Midtown and uptown over the course of three weeks, ending next Friday.
Ms. Friedman and people from the fund sent e-mails to friends and took out advertisements in The Village Voice, Backstage and Craigslist and on the listservs at Juilliard and the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
"Sing 'your song' a cappella, with feeling, like you mean it, on the streets of Midtown," read the ads. "College students, office workers, mothers, schoolchildren, taxi drivers, doormen, tourists, divas and grandparents -- come and sing for us, in your city. Payment: $120."
Eighty or so people showed up for auditions early last month at Passerby, a bar in Chelsea (which Ms. Friedman's husband, Mark Handforth, designed). The hopefuls sang, but Ms. Friedman doesn’t really know from singing; she was looking for people who were comfortable "singing in their own space in public," performers who would not engage with the spectators but would create a little corona around themselves on a crowded sidewalk.
The singers, about 60 of them, have been performing solo and in groups at different times and places around Manhattan over the past two weeks while Ms. Friedman and her discreet crew stand a few feet away and shoot surreptitiously. She hasn't yet decided what will be done with all of the sequences.
In any case, there has already been an audience, which is also the supporting cast. The idea of the project is not to record the reactions of people walking by (that would make it merely an episode of "Punk'd") but to make them part of the project.
After all, Ms. Friedman said, just about all people have wanted at some point to sing out loud whatever they're singing inside their heads. So both the woman in Central Park who was unaffiliated with the project yet burst into song on her own, and the indifferent bystanders with headphones and cellphones shoved in their ears are part of the show, engaging with public expression in different ways.
But nobody has a perspective like the singers themselves.
You've read my posts exhorting artists to read up on what's really at stake re: orphan works; here's a current example that illustrates how ludicrous things get when people and institutions are ruled by the fear of legal reprisal, and how the extended length of copyrights can contribute to locking up our common culture.
Photo: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times. Treasures in a historical society's library.
A Look Back at Canarsie, Clouded by Copyright Woes
By JAKE MOONEY
Published: June 29, 2008
THE photograph, in the archives of the Brooklyn Historical Society, showed a group of people having drinks at Whittaker's Hotel, a long-disappeared way station in Canarsie that once served travelers bound for the Rockaways. It was just what Brian Merlis, who publishes books of historical Brooklyn photographs, wanted.
But in April, a few weeks after Mr. Merlis first saw the picture, the historical society, citing copyright concerns, rebuffed his request to use it and a second photograph -- for a fee -- for use in a forthcoming book on Canarsie, pending further research. Mr. Merlis's objections became public when he wrote a letter criticizing the decision that was published on June 12 in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. What is the point of archiving old pictures, he argued, if people can't use them?
But Deborah Schwartz, president of the historical society, in Brooklyn Heights, said Wednesday that the society was only trying to follow the letter of copyright law. The holders of the copyrights for the pictures -- one taken around 1895 and the other in the early 20th century -- are unknown, she said, and without permission from them or their estates, the photos cannot be reused for a commercial endeavor. Until, that is, they pass into the public domain, which is due to happen for the older picture in 2015, and for the newer as late as 2045.
"We would like to accommodate him, but we can't do that until we're sure that we have the copyright," Ms. Schwartz said.
"It's kind of a drag on some level," she added. "On the other hand, it's a law that's designed to protect artists, photographers, because it's their work."
Mr. Merlis, who teaches at Franklin K. Lane High School in Cypress Hills, has been producing historical books on Brooklyn, about one a year, since 1993. The books, some of which are produced with Lee Rosenzweig, are mostly a labor of love that generally make little money.
If the historical society's photos are not in the Canarsie book, he said: "Who loses out? The reader, the public, the people you want to spread the history to."
Other institutions, Mr. Merlis contended, interpret copyright law less strictly.
Copyright law is so intricate, experts say, that even many lawyers don't fully understand it. But the law generally comes into play only when a copyright holder complains. People reprinting copyrighted images, and institutions licensing them, decide for themselves how much risk of legal action they are willing to tolerate.
At the Brooklyn Public Library, Joy Holland, the manager of the library's Brooklyn collection, said she avoided acquiring photos with restrictions on their use. As for older pictures of unknown provenance, she said, the library generally assumes they can be published.
"The photographs in our collection, they were given to a public library, and I'm quite sure that the people who gave them knew that they would be used," Ms. Holland said. Still, there are exceptions, she said, adding, "Copyright law is horrendously complicated."
Ms. Schwartz, meanwhile, said the historical society was working to track down the copyright holders for the two images in question. Mr. Merlis hopes to resolve the matter soon, so he can have the Canarsie book ready in time for the holidays. His cover is already designed.
"It's a picture of the Canarsie Theater," he said. "And I know who took the picture. And I have the right to publish it."
Some weeks back, an old friend who is particularly grumpy about the contemporary art scene/market/criticism, etc etc, sent me a long, typical piece by TNR's Jed Perl that I didn't have the stomach to read; happily, some folks have stronger stomachs:
reblogged via Artworld Salon:
Monday June 23, 2008 | 23:49 by Edward Winkleman in New York | permalink
Before New Republic art critic Jed Perl penned his latest insights, he visited a good number of recent exhibitions, including
* The inaugural exhibition at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
* "© Murakami" at the Brooklyn Museum
* Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson, at the Museum of Modern Art
* "Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century" at the New Museum
* "Jeff Koons on the Roof" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
and within his essay, he referenced a good number more–including some not-so-recent shows and installations (although when, if indeed ever, he visited each of these is not clear to me from his text):
* Damien Hirst in "Beyond Belief" White Cube, London
* Richard Serra at just about any museum of your choice, but in particular at Broad Contemporary Art Museum
* "Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe" at the Guggenheim
* "Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today" at the Museum of Modern Art
* Tony Feher's March-April 2008 exhibition at PaceWildenstein
and yet, he found precious little in any of them that seems to have moved him. Indeed, he goes on for nearly 6000 words explaining how all he can offer "after all this museumgoing and gallerygoing, is a series of postcards about nothing written from places that felt like nowhere."
About three-quarters of the way through his opus, he does mention some artists he seems to like, though, including Ry Fyan, Carroll Dunham, Jess, and R.B. Kitaj (although with Kitaj, you get the sense Perl only likes him after he turned away from Pop art and embraced "tradition"). But just in case you’re not sure how he really feels about the state of contemporary art, Perl goes that extra mile to note that "you cannot possibly understand what a safe haven for frauds and con artists the art world has become."
As fate would have it, I read Perl's piece just after having slogged my way through Carlos Basualdo's essay "The Unstable Institution" (from the collection of essays "What Makes a Great Exhibition?") in which Basualdo berates the general and specialized art press for their "enormous disparity and lack of analytical rigor" in their published reactions to international art exhibitions, like Documenta and the Venice Biennale. It's not fair to Perl, I know, that his essay was the first I happened upon after encountering this charge (and Basualdo is clearly focused on what international exhibitions are attempting to do, not other types of shows), but it did lead me to read Perl's text with an eye toward judging the rigor of his analysis. I found several of his arguments rather convincing contradictions of his other assertions.