Today I traded emails with Roberta Smith, an esteemed art critic for the Times, on the subject of Christian Marclay: Festival, currently at the Whitney. This is an exhibit I’d encourage a lot of people to see, even without the involvement of improvisers like guitarist Mary Halvorson (who will perform in a version of “Screen Play” on July 21 and 24, and attempt to coax music out of “Wind Up Guitar” on July 22, 24 and 28. Look here for a full schedule; there’s so much more.)
In one of these ArtsBeat posts I mention “Band,” Marclay’s contribution to the 2002 Whitney Biennial -- the very same Biennial that prompted this righteous takedown by Smith. I wasn’t impressed by the Biennial that year, either, and penned a review of my own for the Philadelphia City Paper. (If you’re interested in that bit of invective, skip to the end of this post; I don’t want to put the link anywhere near Smith’s, for fear of suggesting some kind of critical equivalency.)
Anyway, “Band” consisted of musical instruments modified so as to be unplayable. In my review, I called it a “half-wit one-liner,” which strikes me now as unhelpful and wrongheaded, given that I still vividly remember the piece. Among its component parts were “Virtuoso,” an accordion whose bellows stretched out in a coil, and “Drumkit,” featuring drum and cymbal stands telescoped almost to the ceiling. (I wonder whether John Stanier of Battles ever saw “Drumkit,” by the way. Seems he might have.)
Here’s a mini-doc about Marclay’s musical innovation -- the physical aspect of his work that Festival sort of shunts to the background:
Here he is working the decks on the short-lived, fondly remembered NBC show Night Music (the intro is by its host, David Sanborn):
And here, for your amusement only, is my review of the 2002 Whitney Biennial. As promised and/or threatened.