Patti Smith Celebrates Art And Friendship At MoMA PS1

MoMA PS1 is one of the most unique exhibition spaces. For those who hate school, it brings back memories of classroom tediousness and for those who love it, it’s reminiscent of the days when children sat on the front steps waiting to be picked up. Going there is always a good adventure, especially when Patti Smith is performing in a stage the size of your living room, reading excerpts from her book “Just Kids” and being the class act she’s always been.

As one of the most important artistic provocateurs of our time, Christoph Schlingensief combined political outrage and satire in his work to depict German modern history in a rather shocking way. Using multimedia tools he was able to convey themes of immigration, authenticity, and religion, causing controversy and upsetting German complacency most of his life. In a never-ending attempt to challenge the status quo, Schlingensief and Patti Smith have collaborated in the past, developing a great friendship that ended too soon due to Schlingensief’s death. His retrospective series at MoMA PS1does not fail to get the audience to think critically about many of today’s socio-political issues, and there is no one better than Patti Smith to open its doors to the public.

Emphasizing the importance of cherishing life and creativity, Patti Smith celebrated Schlingensief’s art and friendship with a private concert at the MoMA PS1 Dome.  Although the opening coincided with the date of Robert Mapplethorpe’s death, Smith was in good spirits, contributing to the celebrative yet nostalgic tone of the show. An attentive, reverent crowd listened carefully to Smith’s reading of her goodbye letter to Mapplethorpe, followed by an account of what life was like when both of these legends were part of her life.

For those who missed the opening, no need to fret; Smith is performing again at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, and the exhibit will be showing at PS1 through May 25th.

Francesco Vezzoli Will Not Bring A Church To PS1

“We picked it based on availability and deconsecrate-ability, because you can’t do that to a church that is consecrated; otherwise, you’ll end up in jail or in hell…” That was Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli, speaking to me a few months back for a story that ran in Modern Painters magazine. He was talking about a church in the Italian countryside that he’d selected and was planning to take apart, then rebuild for a show in the courtyard of MoMA PS1 here in New York.

Unfortunately, consecrated or otherwise, the church-relocation plan appears to have backfired, according to a piece in the New York Times. “The deconstruction process had been going on for six months when, in late October, a passer-by wrote to complain to the Ministry of Culture, and the superintendent in charge of the Calabria region blocked it. ‘I got a phone call that I am under criminal investigation,’ Mr. Vezzoli said.”

It remains to be seen if the exhibition at PS1 will soldier on in some modified form, though that seems unlikely. I’ve reached out to Vezzoli for further comment, so stay tuned. Our interest was especially piqued by Klaus Biesenbach’s comment to the Times that the whole debacle “had aspects of a ‘real-time performance’”, though it’s perhaps too optimistic to hope that the legal brouhaha was actually engineered by the infamously irreverent artist himself as some sort of elaborate stunt. Since this is Italy we’re talking about, I’m guessing the truth is more mundane: perhaps Mr. Vezzoli forgot to bribe the right people.

The National’s ‘Sorrow,’ for Six Hours Straight at MoMA

This is your brain on The National. You wake up, and the sun is shining, and the birds are chirping, and you actually got a seat on the bus or the train to work and it’s not because you’re accidentally sitting in pee. You got a text from someone you like. Everything is going well. Your smile is big and obnoxious. And then you accidentally listen to High Violet and suddenly you become a hung-over, sobbing mess.

This is obviously an extreme, but whether you’re trying to convey a lingering, sad-bastard, rainy-movie-scene sort of sorrow or something a bit deeper and existential, the kind of sorrow other languages than English have words for, The National tends to be a go-to band. So it’s pretty unsurprising that when Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson wanted to incorporate a singular work speaking to “romantic suffering and contemporary Weltschmerz” (German for “world pain”) into his piece A Lot of Sorrow for the Museum of Modern Art’s PS1, he goes with The National. Specifically, their gutting 2010 number “Sorrow,” performed live on a loop, for six hours straight.

As written on the MoMA website:

“As in all of Kjartansson’s performances, the idea behind A Lot of Sorrow is devoid of irony, yet full of humor and emotion. It is another quest to find the comic in the tragic and vice versa.”

If “by finding comic in the tragic” they mean “a bunch of people are gonna write snarky blog and Twitter posts about an attempt at an earnest meditation on sorrow,” then that’s a pretty apt description. And to the brave intern someone will inevitably make livetweet this experience, or suggest doing so themselves out of some duty to intense experiences, it’s okay to say “no” sometimes. You can leave. It’s okay.

[via ANIMAL New York]

Seva Granik on PS1, Klaus Biesenbach and Booking New York’s Hottest Summer Event

“The DFA line-up of August 7th is crazy,” says Seva Granik as small dishes of mac ‘n cheese, sliders, and guacamole are placed on our table courtesy of Coco 66. We’re sitting window-side at a private event for the Australian group Tame Impala, and Granik is talking about one of the events for Warm Up—MoMA PS1’s highly acclaimed summer concert series. Granik is part of the illustrious team of New York music industry insiders brought together by MoMA PS1 Director Klaus Biesenbach to produce this year’s series. “Jump in,” Granik says, pushing the mac ‘n cheese lightly in my direction as he continues his run-down of some of the acts he’s looking forward to. “The Crystal Ark is a new band by Gavin Russom that no one has heard. It’s their first show ever. And, just from looking at their stage plot and input lists, I can already tell that they will blow people away. It’s the most complicated, technically well-put together plot I’ve seen in all of my short career.” Warm Up started years ago, but more recently it’s evolved into a premiere summer concert series, and this year’s line-up is “the biggest ever” according to Granik. “This has never gone down at MoMA PS1.” When offered beer, Granik puts his hand up in polite demurral. “I’ve got a long night ahead of me.”

Granik’s role as Bookings and Stage Manager entails managing bookings, contracting, finances, tech liaison and day-of stage-managing. The team of curators he supports are Dean Bein (head of True Panther Records under Matador), Kris Chen, (head of A&R at XL Recordings), Robin Carolan (head of Tri Angle Records), Jonathan Galkin (co-founder of DFA Records), Ronen Givony (founder of Wordless Music), and Brandon Stosuy (senior writer for Stereogum). The curatorial committee also included the support of Eliza Ryan, MoMA PS1’s new Curatorial Assistant for Performance and Contemporary Practice, as external adviser.

“They’re playing,” Granik nods to the black concert space next door, where Tame Impala has just taken the stage. At 35, Granik is tall and lanky in dark skinny jeans, Keds, and a sleeveless angular jacket that tapers at the waist. His hair is shaved at the sides. Back at the table I ask if he likes the band. He’s not sold yet. He has to listen to their music for a while to understand it before he can come to a decision. Tom, a friend of Granik’s, joins us, as do the members of The Luyas, a Montreal-based band. They order burgers. Tom says there’s a rumor that MGMT will be going on. He leaves and comes back. “Yeah, it’s just one of them. He’s jamming with [Tame Impala] on bass.”

Qualitatively, Granik’s position at MoMA PS1 is not very different from work he’s been doing over the past ten years. Beginning in 2007 with a show for Yo Majesty at Studio B, his mainstay has been producing DIY shows at completely raw locations. “A lot of curating, a lot of booking, a lot of stage managing, dealing with tech stuff, like stage plots and input lists, guest lists.” But by that point Granik had already had years of experience dealing with booking and carrying most of the workload, while touring with bands he was in (he played guitar, wrote songs, and sang back-up), one of which toured stadiums. “It was all very fun,” he says. “But it always ended up collapsing for me. Bands are fickle creatures. They are born, live, and die so very fast. Soon I figured out that I was on the wrong side of the musical fence. Bands come and go…. But the curator perseveres.” Granik is also part-owner of myopenbar.com, a site that informs boozehounds about parties with open bars in cities around the U.S.

Sarah Hooper, a good friend of Granik’s, walks in with two friends, one with an arm covered in tattoos. She owns JellyNYC, a marketing outfit that produced the well-known waterfront Pool Parties in Brooklyn. Sarah sits down and asks Granik how it’s going. They fall into easy shoptalk. Granik says he’s had a lot of work to do for Warm Up and looks down at the table. “Why don’t you get an intern, a kid,” Sarah says. “I know a kid. Carlos. He’s great.” Granik lifts his head in a swift but gentle snap. “Because a kid can’t send emails to clients,” he says. “A kid can’t talk to agents.” Granik orders a crepe with dulce de leche. Cutting it up, he tells me to try some and that it’s delicious. He looks around the table. “Looks like we’re deficient in forks,” he says, and hands me his. A woman walks through the door and stretches her hand out to Granik. “We met at SXSW,” she says and smiles. “We slept on the same floor.”

image image

We get into Granik’s blue minivan. He had planned on us going to a goth party, but instead he drives us to the Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint, where he lives. He drives calmly and looks up over the steering wheel with a steady gaze. I ask about the curatorial meetings. “It’s a very, very scary room to open your mouth in,” he says. “I literally took notes as Jon Galkin and Kris Chen were speaking. Those guys are legends. Those two, and Ronen Givony, of LPR; those guys know pretty much everything that anyone in this town knows about the music business.” I ask if Klaus Biesenbach attends the curatorial meetings. “He showed up at the first two, just to make sure everything was running smoothly. He doesn’t come anymore. He doesn’t need to.” Biesenbach left for Europe almost immediately after the initial round of meetings and his assistant Jocelyn Miller served as liaison between Biesenbach and the group, handling permissions and out-of-the ordinary contracting. Granik says Biesenbach was mostly involved in creating the team. He “curated the curators,” and made some very serious decisions regarding the direction of the series and its scope. From that point, the committee acted with relative independence.

“I think that the driving reasoning, the logic behind the curating was diversity,” says Granik. “It’s important to the institution, this year anyway, to be as wide-ranging and far-reaching in its decisions on music.” I’ve seen pictures of Klaus Biesenbach and he looks austere. I ask Granik if he finds Biesenbach intimidating. “No!” he says. “He’s very friendly. And funny. And he’s good at putting people at ease. I’ve met him before and it was always very light-hearted conversation, mostly about my clothes. What’s great about Klaus is that he knows how to socialize on every level. I’ve realized that the most successful people are those who are able to socialize with anyone. That’s a skill I’d like to be able to perfect.” After we park, Granik pauses by the car. “I only wish,” he says, “that I had started this sooner.” Four pale salt-rimmed margaritas are placed on our table at Manhattan Inn. No one has ordered margaritas. Granik clinks glasses with Sarah and her friends. “There’s a lot of music industry people here,” Granik says. “That’s Dean [Bein], the founder of True Panther Sounds.” He points to a young man in a red t-shirt with wavy brown hair. “He’s one of the curators for Warm Up; one of the most talented young music executives around. He was behind Girls, Delorean, Tanlines. His label was bought out by Matador. He blew up overnight.” He smiles and takes a sip of his margarita. He crosses the room to sit down next to a woman with long hair and dark-rimmed glasses. “He’s going to hit on that girl,” Sarah says.

Each of the ten days of Warm Up is curated by one individual or is a collaborative process among two curators, though all curators weighed in on contacts. Granik worked very closely with all of the curators. In terms of strategy and approaching managers and booking agents, Granik learned a lot from Jon Galkin and Kris Chen. “It’s sort of incredible. I have had so much responsibility thrust upon me. To act as a conduit for the world’s most important modern arts institution’s musical series, it gives you a lot of power in dealing with people. But it’s also frightful. What if you miss? The pressure can be overwhelming.” The transition to MoMA PS1 had its glitches and Granik is cognizant of mistakes and bad moves he made initially. “I moved on some contracts when I should not have, took liberties when I should not have. The institution is a very tightly controlled collective, and it was unusual for me at first to work in such a controlled environment. But I caught up very quickly and learned a lot.” He also owes a lot to his adviser, Eliza. “With Eliza advising Klaus on who’s who in this town’s Music business, there could have been no misfires.”

A few days later I meet Granik at Home Sweet Home, “the best bar in the city” according to Granik, where he bartends on Sundays. In a black cut-up t-shirt that shows more skin than it covers, he welcomes me and tenders a frozen margarita, from a machine. “The secret,” he says, “is top shelf tequila—Sauza.” Sitting on a stool next to me, near a taxidermy bird hanging from the ceiling, Granik talks in his composed and pensive tone about what his work entails now that the booking is done. “It’s just getting more hands-on. We’re getting into the payment process, and it’s difficult since MoMA PS1 is a non-profit.” I ask how it is to work for MoMA PS1. He sits up straight, pauses, and says as if the idea just startled him, “Overnight every agent in the States knows who I am. You have no idea what it’s like to have MoMA behind you.” He sits back and smiles almost imperceptibly and regains his calm demeanor. “But it’s about the music. I’m able to do what I love. Yes, it’s priceless for someone like me. I feel very pompous right now, very self-important. I hardly deserve the honor. But hell—I’ll take it.”

Photography by Shoko Takayasu.

“Arctic Hysteria” @ PS1

imageLast night, I found myself Bushwicked, enjoying the company of a couple gifted poets, one of whom has a talent for translating Finnish literature and frequently alludes to her childhood growing up in Oulu, the largest city in Northern Finland. But when she talks about the place (punctuating her anecdotes with nostalgic sighs), there’s a peculiarly icy restraint in her stories — certain details are omitted so that the story’s point can shine more. That same restraint is the predominant aesthetic running through one of the more striking exhibitions at the MoMA’s PS1 in Queens. “Arctic Hysteria: New Art from Finland” collects interdisciplinary works from 16 Finnish artists, including Pekka Jylhä.

With animal taxidermy as the foundation for his featured project, Jylhä’s vision is indicative of the chimerical, paradoxical quality of all the works on display; though these artists make their niches in exploring the supernatural, their work never comes off as overindulgent. Rather, the minimalism of “Arctic Hysteria” makes it one of the more honest biographies of a country told through art. Although my good friend will no doubt be reciting tight tercets at coffeeshops indefinitely, fans of the Scandianavian new wave have until September 15 to see this show.