BlackBook Exclusive: Zola Jesus, Pitchfork Hold Forth on the Upcoming ‘Midwinter’ at the Art Institute of Chicago

Zola Jesus


When selling physical music became a no longer tenable business strategy, the shift of emphasis to, as we might call it, “Lollapalooza Mode,” was swift, decisive and, most importantly, profitable. It eventually spread so far out of the marquee American cities, that this year you can find Kesha and Phantogram headlining a music festival in Des Moines, as well as Pussy Riot and The Prodigy hauling all the way from Russia and England to tear up the stage in, well, Columbus, Ohio.

But quality control and cohesion had become glaring problems (is it ever okay to have Interpol follow Iggy Azalea?). In 2017, both The Washington Post and The Guardian published think pieces on how the festival biz might be headed into a…downward spiral.

Yet here was the Pitchfork Festival, deftly curated by the eponymous, and most successful digital music publication of its generation, rolling along since 2006 with a near unanimity of positivity emanating from it. So it’s hardly a surprise that they would be found leading a mini-revolution in 2019, in an attempt to bring some sanity, and most importantly intimacy back to the notion of tribal musical gatherings.




And indeed, this February 15-17 Pitchfork will launch Midwinter at, of all places, the The Art Institute of Chicago. The lineup – Laurie Anderson, Mykki Blanco, Tortoise, Slowdive, Perfume Genius, amongst 30 total acts – suggests a more contemplative, even romantic experience…in ideological counter to all that fist-pumping and beer-swilling going on elsewhere. The music, as is the intention, will in a way interact with the museum’s breathtaking collections of historical and contemporary art, as well as its august architecture (if we can allow ourselves a moment of ethereal conceptualizing).

“It seems like a really beautiful, interesting event,” says Nika Danilova, who will, of course, take the stage as Zola Jesus. “I like that it’s taking place at the Art Institute. I really prefer performing in spaces that allow for that sort of expression; it feels like a more natural fit than, say, a rock club.”

She also enthusiastically shares that her own non-musical creative inspirations include “Jesse Draxler, Richard Serra, Donald Judd, Tristan Tzara, and Pierre Soulages.”


Perfume Genius


Adam Krefman, Pitchfork‘s Senior Director, Festivals & Activations, is quick to point out that the museum had actually already begun programming music. But was still perhaps slightly astonished when they barely flinched at the idea of expanding on that.

“We surprised them with the scope and ambition of this idea,” he recalls. “But they have been great partners and collaborators so far. It’s an honor to work with them – and I just hope we can do right by them.”

Doing right by them includes a program of original pre-recorded compositions, unearthed recordings, and soundscapes from the likes of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Nico Muhly, Visible Cloaks and Midori Takada, which are inspired by and “converse” with iconic works from the museum’s collection. And Danilova reveals that Zola Jesus “will perform a special, stripped down set, different from what we’ve been playing at our Okovi shows.”


Nico Muhly


The Art Institute’s Jacqueline Terrassa, Woman’s Board Endowed Chair of Learning and Public Engagement, enthuses that Midwinter is already changing public perception about just what one might expect from a museum experience. And, certainly, she hopes it can attract a new generation to engage with the exalted institution’s singular narrative on art history.

To that end, she considers that, “When your favorite musician creates work in a unique setting that is not familiar to you, or responds to artworks you had not really considered, it makes you pay attention and shift your relationship to both artwork and place.”

So what, in the end, is Pitchfork hoping comes out of Midwinter?

“I hope we manage to create a dialogue between music and art, including architecture,” says Krefman, “and alter how people generally experience one or the other. Less pretentiously, I hope people have a really fun night in the dead of winter in Chicago. And lastly, I hope people respect the Art Institute and are mindful of being surrounded by priceless art, because we want to be able to do this again.”


Art Institute of Chicago
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