Thursday, December 14, 2006

Arts: Rock ‘n’ Roll Rembrandts

Thurston Moore, Taking a Subway Ride With The Ramones

By Chelsea Werner

What would happen if your favorite musicians and your favorite artists switched media? Imagine Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth trading in his guitar for a pair of scissors and using a glue stick instead of a pick. That scenario exemplifies a new exhibit at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, "Music is a Better Noise" (from a line from an Essential Logic song), which highlights the unusual exchange between visual arts and music.

The first floor of the exhibit consists of two rooms divided by decade. The mid-'70s through early '80s room features the found object, crucifix-centric work of Alan Vega (known for his work in the formative electro-punk group Suicide), the sculptures of Rammellzee (a rapper who was one of the first to translate graffiti style into hip-hop culture) and the digital and pin-hole photographs of Barbara Ess (of no-wave and experimental bands such as Y Pants, The Static, Ultra Vulva and Radio Guitar).

The second room focuses on artists of the mid-'80s through the '90s. Bjorn Copeland, guitarist of noise outfit Black Dice, contributes a mixed media photograph called Gore Mixer Drip (2006), which shows a man with orange beads streaming down from his eyeballs resting a drumstick on a mixing machine. By using the title of a Black Dice song ("Gore"), Copeland finds a way to incorporate the words, images and allusion of sound into a visual medium.

A less successful attempt at a similar idea, Thurston Moore’s Street Mouth series (2005) demonstrates that his strength lies in sound collage, not paper collage. Images of his idols, such as Brian Eno, The Ramones and Lou Reed, are pasted under headlines to create a collage that looks more like a paparazzi spread than the work of an experimental, genre-blending artist. Moore's wife, Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon, has an offering of her own. Her Rocked Up series (2006) are canvases covered in acrylic and black glitter. Besides the obvious glam connotations, the only musical dimension to the pieces is that drugs have become so intertwined with music that one can't help but think the title of her series refers to a substance rather than a genre.

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