Photo courtesy of the School of Visual Arts
For The Record: The Art of a Song
On a late Friday afternoon, I was rushing to the School of Visual Art’s main building to run an errand for my student account before the building closed for the weekend. I was especially flustered because I had made a goal of visiting the Met immediately afterward to write a review for a class. I entered the building in a huff, throwing off my coat, flashing my ID to the security desk, and whirled around only to be stopped in my tracks. The gallery space that stood before me looked like a vibrant combination of a Williamsburg record store, an infrared Guitar Center, and what I’d imagine Alice Cooper’s basement to look like. It was as if The Hard Rock Cafe had decided to franchise an art gallery.
Immediately in front of me, a six foot tall, neon guitar gleamed an invitation like a box office “Open” sign. Next to it, two guitars leaned against a stack of amps, setting the scene as if this was a theater set. The walls have been painted a fire engine red and Prince purple. One wall was corner-to-corner with show posters, and another, a perfect grid of famous albums from music legends; The Ramones, David Bowie, Nirvana, etc.
Placed along the walls and clustered in the center, sixteen reimagine guitars stood like trophies on metal pedestals, all paired with a classic album, framed to the side. They had been created by students of the 3D Design program at the school. Each student had been given a guitar and then selected a hit album of the past on which to base a reinterpretation of the instrument. The goal was for the artists to express how they felt when listening to a song that particularly spoke to them through the aesthetic remodeling of the object. The results were, ahem, so metal.
My favorite piece stood front and center. Based on a Kiss album, the guitar was a metaphor for a woman’s silhouette from behind. The body of the instrument was coated in a silky black cloth, the narrow area of the body meant to be a woman’s waist and the strings were the laces of her corset. A plump booty even popped below the bridge of the guitar. Sexy shoulders and arms had been molded from halfway down the neck, painted a striking neon pink. The arms were placed in a sultry slump, one near the shoulder and one on the hip, while the hands pulled the strings of the corset closed. This piece slaps the image of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll across your face. You can just hear Kiss singing, “Hotter than Hell.”
I mean, you can literally hear Kiss singing, and all the other famous musicians as speakers pump out the chart-toppers to get you in the mood. The next room, in addition to another sixteen artworks, displays three walls of projections of performances and music videos along with the music, throwing you back in time to when they were played live.
For the Record is a wonderland for anyone who has enjoyed basically any music previous to the mid-90s. It takes you down the rabbit hole with the nostalgia of show posters and albums, awes you with the creativity and sometimes, hilarious or poignantly accurate interpretations of the guitars, and has something to offer every fan from the Beach Boys to Salt N Pepa.
My only stumbling point with this exhibition was at first sight; I searched around in delighted bewilderment for the oasis of the standard wall text to explain to me how this conglomerate of rock-and-roll paraphernalia came to be. No explanation was offered. I had to search on my phone to gain insight into the concept. That is undoubtedly due to its size. Being an exhibition held in a college’s lobby and adjacent, the modest gallery does not afford the space to do this exhibition justice. The pieces are placed tightly together, causing me to stifle my curatorial urge to create some breathing room. The show is so enthralling that I want to find it a large home so it can be large and loud for the greater public to experience. However, the slightly cramped nature does lend itself to the feeling of being in a backstage dressing room full of equipment.
I had been so swept up with For the Record. The atmosphere and design of the space were so captivating but still took a backseat to the ingenuity of the artist for their righteous creations. By the time I had finished playing my part of Alice in this Wonderland, all the school offices had closed. I didn’t even bother going to the Met.
For the Record: The Art of a Song
School of Visual Arts Gramercy Gallery
Saturday, January 14 – Saturday, January 28
Here is a link to the details I had to find on my phone in the gallery:
I didn’t realize I saw this exhibition on its second to last day. So, I’ve included the photos I took.