Sebastian Smee Slave to the Music, Sydney Morning Herald, 1999

SLAVE TO THE MUSIC

Last Friday, I attended the opening night of an exhibition at Darren Knight Gallery which confounded almost every expectation one has of art exibitions’ — and, for that matter, of openings. To begin with, it was more about music than art. But, unlike most of the audience at Vanessa Beecroft’s VB4O (an event which was about group psychology and the inherent strangeness of attending to real, eroticised bodies over long stretches of time as much as about “fine art”), few people seemed to mind. The Darren Knight exhibition, called Slave Pianos, is a carefully curated, wholly fascinating show about artists’ experiments with music. It’s a little known fact that some of the best known modern and contemporary artists both here and overseas - including Kurt Schwitters, Bill Viola, Joseph Beuys and Louise Bourgeois - had or have a serious interest in composing music. To bring home the point, curators Danius Kesminas and Mike Stevenson have set up a computer-controlled, mechanical “slave piano” in the main gallery at Darren Knight, which plays musical scores by these and other artist-composers. The presence of this demented, playerless grand piano, producing some of the stranger sounds I have heard coming from a keyboard, is eerie, to say the least. With the help of colleagues, Kesminas and Stevenson have arranged, and transcribed for piano, music from their own archive of artists’ music. In the second gallery, the sheet music is arranged on the wall, along with some of the artwork that originally accompanied the music. Indeed, it is the presentation that makes this exhibition so extraordinary. Stevenson himself is one of the more way-out, kooky artists on the scene, but this exhibition reveals him at his most fastidious. If art really is one of the freest of arenas, why is it that artists who position themselves at the furthest extremes of art practice are so often dry, control-fixated and obsessional? John Nixon, whose music is represented here, is a fine example. Is it the slowly dying legacy of conceptualism, or just one more art-world irony? Here, anyway, the curators fastidiousness helps create a show that’s a once informative and experiential. The opening night also featured peformances of artists’ music by the Elektra String Quartet (Bill Viola and Kurt Schwitters were stand-outs) and a band performance down the road, which I missed, at the Iron Duke pub. Until August 28. Phone 9699353.

Sebastian Smee

Sebastian Smee Slave to the Music, Sydney Morning Herald, 1999

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