What the …?

caleb k: Art>Music: rock, pop, techno, MCA

Art>Music is full of visual and aural images connected at some point with the music world, specifically with music and popular culture. In presenting such a show, the MCA is stating that the connection between art and music is important, and the ideas and concepts around such a practice worth pursuing. Perhaps the biggest problem with this exhibition, and the MCA itself, is that a number of issues and questions have been raised that require answers and discussion, but there are no avenues for such conversation. An open forum is needed where the gallery can answer questions and detractions face to face, with the art community, academics and the various satellite cultures which cross in and out of the area covered by Art>Music. This has not happened and many are left thinking that the MCA does not understand (critically) what is happening within the art/music scene.

The basic tenet is an exhibition presenting works by “visual artists who make and record music, collaborate with musicians or whose work is strongly influenced by the styles of rock, pop and techno.” The show simply does not do this; it breaks away from its brief almost instantly. At points of possible rupture, the exhibition is at its weakest displaying a lack of research into sound art, 20th century audio and rock/pop/techno.

Questions must be raised. What is the point of having such a show? Who is it for? What does it mean for an institution to curate such a show from the outside (are they on the outside)? Curator Sue Cramer has written the sole catalogue essay. Does this mean that we have one viewpoint in an environment filled with outsides and nearbys, insides and arounds, squeaks and mutterings, squeals and feedbacks? Where are the other voices in the catalogue—the sound theorists, art critics, the artists even?

In her catalogue essay, Cramer states that the connection and interaction between art and music is not new, fine, but then goes on to state that Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground are “perhaps the most famous example.” Do the general public really know the work of the Velvets, do they even know the Warhol project?The Velvets must come way down the chain. What is this art pop, this art rock?

The question then is who is this show for? Is it meant as a groundbreaking museum piece, opening the minds of the masses to new ideas, and even the possibility that there might be a connection between art and music? If so, why use Warhol? If not, then in whose terms are Warhol and the Velvets the most famous example?

If we are to make any sense of Art>Music we need to ask what the terms of reference are. What is ‘techno’ for example? The way it is positioned in relation to contemporary dance culture is all over the place. Does techno relate to the whole genre of electronically generated music or does it specifically relate to a sub-genre within electronic music. The difference is huge and the term is often used in both settings. The same goes for the ongoing shift in the meanings of ‘pop’ and ‘rock.’

Finally, why was so much left out and so much included? Was the brief simply too large? Did it need mural sized record covers (how does Julian Opie interact with Britpop beyond merely painting the cover of a release)? Do we need to see a painting of Nick Cave (how did Howard Arkley interact with post-punk and Nick Cave beyond a portrait)? If this is included, then what of the thousands of portraits of musicians? Where were the photographs? How does the Kylie fan room fit next to the Sonic Youth room? How was the music box selected and why were there artists in the box and not in the show? Why include all those records/CDs in one room? What makes them art, more interesting than hundreds of thousands of other releases, and how has this moved on from Broken Music, part of René Block’s Sydney Biennale in 1990?

These questions have been asked in relation to sound and art for many years, yet this show seems to add little in the way of answers or understanding.

Art>Music: rock, pop, techno exhibition, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, March 21-June 24

RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001 pg. 38

© Caleb K; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2001