Looking at Music 3.0


of an Exhibition

by Amanda Salles

Published on March 27, 2011, Modified on March 29, 2011

  • Description:

    Sounds blaring from every display, each wall obnoxiously painted in a different “tasteless” color, no benches allowing a quiet personal reflective moment…The exhibit, Looking at Music 3.0 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), is nothing if not counterintuitive to all we expect as a visitor, and to those of us in Museum Exhibition studies, who are taught the tenets that make for a “rewarding visitor experience.” But if you were to ask the opinion of any in the crowded gallery, you’d have to interrupt the active lounging on the huge central ottoman, the people dancing with headphones on, and the intense photo-taking and texting that’s going on in this gallery-cum-party. This scene serves as its own testament to the central idea of this exhibit – that music changed the way we look at art.

    The exhibit, third in MoMA’s series on music, focuses on the dynamic and counter-cultural art scene in 1980s and 90s in New York City, with particular attention to the ways in which the music of this time influenced and informed it.

    This was the time that hip hop emerged, grafitti became valued as public art, and with new technology, music and video art, became a way for us to actively communicate to one another and our ever-expanding public. With the mixtape encouraging personal involvement, the video camera allowing each of us to “direct”, and the boombox allowing us control over our own soundtrack, we jolted from passive audience to active participant. Christian Marclay’s invention, as critic Thom Jurek termed it, “turntablism”, forever changed music-making, as musicians unapologetically attributed pre-existing sounds and samples in their compositions, much as Richard Prince, using that same idea in the visual arena, reworked and attributed pre-exiting images into his artwork.

    Most of the exhibit’s displays use screens which show music videos, labelled only with the artist’s name, and year. This lack of expository information makes the message clear: the truest way to understand this world, is to experience it first-hand. Description, the labels seems to say, is futile. The exhibit is not displayed as much as exposed. Walking through it, one feels excitedly assaulted by the sounds of random screaming, vaguely sexual-sounding moans, and sirens, and is similarly assaulted by visions on screens of police cars, crowds of marching people, skeletons, and images that look quazi-prornographic, much of it filmed with wacky camera angles. The words “drug-induced” came to mind frequently. But for all this, the subject matter and message of the music and art is nothing if not sobering, as the politics of feminism, racism, economic injustice, and AIDS are all are faced head-on, blazing with clear, creative bravery.

    And the visitor looks, dances, listens – participates – in all of this with feet stomping rhythmically on the gallery’s linoleum floor, one that could have been in your parents’ basement. This one detail – this floor – conveys the message that along with the angst, there existed a kind of aware, entitled, youthful brattiness, so palpable in the art and music of this time – all explicitly, and joyously felt underfoot.

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