Double Lives. Visual Artists Making Music / Bundeskunsthalle Bonn / Interview

In this video, we speak with the curators of the exhibition Double Lives. Visual Artists Making Music, Eva Badura-Triska and Edek Bartz. The show that premiered at mumok in Vienna (Austria) is currently on display at Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn (Germany).

Taking its starting point in the sizable number of important artists who are as dedicated to musicmaking as they are to their visual practice, the exhibition focuses on the presentation of music. Large-screen projections of videos of concert and studio performances conjure a sense of being present at the live event and showcase different approaches to staging performance situations.

The exhibition spans the period from the early twentieth century to the present. Beginning with Duchamp and the Futurists, Yves Klein and the Fluxus artists Nam June Paik and Yoko Ono, it moves on to the key figures of the 1960s and 70s such as A. R. Penck, Gerhard Rühm or Hermann Nitsch. The protagonists of Proto-Punk like Captain Beefheart and Alan Vega usher in the numerous artists’ bands of the 1980s that numbered artists like Albert Oehlen or Pipilotti Rist among their members. The stylistically more heterogenous scene since the 1990s is represented by Carsten Nicolai, Emily Sundblad et al.

The exhibition has been organized by mumok – Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien in cooperation with Bundeskunsthalle.

Double Lives. Visual Artists Making Music / Bundeskunsthalle Bonn / Interview with the Curators Eva Badura-Triska and Edek Bartz. Bonn (Germany), June 23, 2020.

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Transcript (translated, German to English):

Eva Badura-Triska:
Well, it is about artists who, in addition to their visual work, also have a musical one. That means that they wrote the music, performed it very often themselves, were involved in band projects, and many also had labels. And the exciting thing about the exhibition is that there are a great many visual artists who have also made music. And there are a lot of discoveries to be made, both in the field of visual arts and music.

I have the thesis that it may be related to the fact that in the 20th century – because we were not actually familiar with this phenomenon before – the performative in general becomes more important. That means it is a form of performance art, if you like, that the artists take up here. Hence this interest in music.

I think visual artists have always been interested in music, it’s always been that way, but they have not been active as musicians themselves. Especially since many of them amateurs are in the field, not all. And so to speak the courage to emerge from this position to appear in front of an audience only came in the 20th century and is becoming more and more important.

Edek Bartz:
And just because of the punk music that was very simple, that made it easy for everyone to make music and write songs. And it was with this inspiration that artists started making music without any previous knowledge. You didn’t have to be a great guitarist or play an instrument, you could just do it the way you wanted to.

And that was the incentive and the beginning of a musical activity for many artists, especially in Germany. Then after the punk and all the guitar music, the sampling machine was invented, then rap and all that stuff, and then again, artists started making music, making the next generation of music that was mostly electronic music, because of course, as you said correctly, that became possible, you can generate pre-programmed sounds. And of course that was a big incentive for many.

Eva Badura-Triska:
But you can say that the visual artists have always worked against the grain and that they were also very creative in inventing instruments. This begins in Futurism with Bruitism, where street noise was understood not as noise but also as music. And many artists have become very creative with instruments when you look at what Paik, for example, gave Charlotte Moorman as string instruments, and, for example, Tony Conrad, you can see that very nicely in the exhibition in Cologne, they invented instruments themselves. And I think that’s something that may have been developed more from the fine arts than from classical music.

For example, this noise music influenced Mauricio Kagel, but of course also John Cage, which has already been incorporated into music history. I do not want to overstate this now, but I believe that this has given impetus.

And I believe that in the field of visual arts, if you have made music there, you were simply much freer. You are more impartial and unencumbered by tradition. You don’t have to stick to the rules of music, you don’t even have to get rid of them. And there is somehow more creative potential. That could also be the reason why many musicians, especially from the 1960s and 1980s, felt very comfortable in the visual arts scene and were more openly received in the visual arts scene, so to speak.

A very striking example is Minimal Art, where visual artists like Rühm and Yves Klein wrote very progressive things very early on. But then came the minimal art that developed from music, for example Steve Reich, who was only received in the visual arts, in the galleries in New York and not in the official concert halls.

Edek Bartz:
First, it was interesting how difficult it was to get material. Nowadays it is of course unthinkable that you won’t get hundreds of videos right away with one click. And that was very, very difficult, because of course you saw . . . So until the 80s it was still very, very sparse that the artists filmed themselves or were filmed. There were many many approaches to this, but there was no material, and it wasn’t until the 80s, when practically video was developed and so on, that much more material, visual material, came to light again.

And then we were amazed, like very often famous artists such as Penck: Penck, a famous artist who is represented in all major museums and who, you can say, has made music throughout his life. But that doesn’t seem to have been properly acknowledged by the art world because you don’t get any information about it at all. And the galleries that represent him don’t really know anything about his musical work. And they don’t even know how many records he actually made, they don’t know anything about it.

And we actually owe the video we show only because we desperately searched for the musicians with whom he played, and the musicians had material that they recorded during their concerts, private material. That means that was never seen. You pulled that out of some drawer and made it available. But it was in fact astonishing how such famous musicians were not noticed at all in their musical activity, which was so important to them.

Eva Badura-Triska:
And it was interesting for me that I just got to know a lot of artists through Edek Bartz, who knows the music so well. Artists I didn’t know and which also interested me in the visual field. For example Charlemagne Palestine. That was a new name for me. I now also encounter him in the visual arts. For example, he currently has a terrific installation in Mödrath, or Alan Vega, who is very popular in the music scene and who created a visual oeuvre is slowly becoming known now, and these were really great discoveries. So it is actually both in the field of visual arts and in the field of music that historiography is actually expanded by many names.

Edek Bartz:
Several artists were known to me as musicians and I didn’t even know that they were artists, for example like Martin Creed. I somehow bought a CD from him with his music ten years ago or somehow longer and didn’t really know that he made art for a long time and actually learned much later, aha, he makes art, and then he really is an important artist. Another one is Wild Billy Childish, who played in a punk band and which I somehow heard 20 years ago in a rock club in Vienna. I didn’t even know that he made art.

And then I happened to have been to an art fair, there was a sign, Wild Billy Childish, and I thought, weird, that’s the same name, it’s not an ordinary name. Then I asked the gallery owner, is that the one? And he says: yes, yes, he is. I was surprised, I actually didn’t know that. That means it wasn’t always the case that artists only came to music, so to speak, but also the other way around, that there were simply musicians who did art that you didn’t even know. Tony Conrad would also be an example. Tony Conrad plays at La Monte Young, with John Cale, Lou Reed, with all the important people in music.

I myself have to admit that I didn’t know for a long time that he was producing art and many years later I somehow saw a poster with his name. And I thought Tony Conrad, it can’t be the same. But it was him. Many succeeded or were very well known in the music world. But not that they also had art production.

Eva Badura-Triska:
And many of them are now coming out big: Billy Childish has a prominent gallery in Berlin, Tony Conrad has a large exhibition at the Kunstverein Cologne. These are things, or Captain Beefheart

Edek Bartz:
. . . and Martin Creed,

Eva Badura-Triska:
yes, and Martin Creed, they may now also . . . but they have always made visual art, only they have been perceived more in a medium more famous, if you will.

Edek Bartz:
Regarding Captain Beefheart it was interesting, because many thought that he, as he at some point stopped making music, started doing paintings. That’s not true at all. I read diaries, tour diaries from him. And it was always said: The musicians said: Yes, the Captain Beefheart is super boring, because when they stop playing, he withdraws and starts to draw and make drawings. And they say that the musicians always found it bland that he immediately sat down and started doing something visual.

And then how he actually stopped making music, that was a very conscious act, after all these years of making music, he stopped making music and just retired and only painted until the end of his life. And we still say that his work in music has overshadowed his life for so long. And it has only been noticed in recent years that he is represented by the Michael Werner Gallery and shows his work again and again. Now you start to understand, aha, there was a second life, just a double life.

Naturally, music is always communication. While the artist sits alone in his studio and produces his art, music is of course always live and always playing and always playing in front of an audience. And I believe that because of this lonely activity as an artist, there is a lot that this gives back to them, to those who do it, no matter how many people they play in front of, even if there are only 20 people sitting downstairs. But then they feel, they immediately feel the affection, they immediately feel, ah that is well received, people like that.

Yes, you have to say that music is of course about people wanting to hear it. And that they just like it. Of course, that’s the difference to art, there it is: Ah, yes, well, great work and so on, that’s it. But you sit there with music. You have the artist in front of you. And either he feels your antipathy or he also feels your sympathy for him very strongly. And I think that’s an aspect that makes it so interesting for artists.

Of course, as you said before, through electronic music, of course it is practically possible for everyone to make music and of course for everyone, to produce and publish music. And I think that especially for the new, younger generation of artists this is only natural. That was not: somehow you would have to pick up the guitar and somehow amplify a little behind the amplifier. It’s a natural thing for them, they grow up in a different world, visually. And that is why I believe that for the next young generation this is only natural, for them it is quite normal to make music or use the synthesizer and program any new sounds.

Eva Badura-Triska:
But very interesting, for example Katharina Grosse, who plays together with a musician on an analog synthesizer, told me in conversation that she would now like to learn to sing – professionally.

I think 20th century art history has been largely rewritten in recent decades. We are getting away from this male hero art, so to speak. There is such a canon that is totally mixed up. Very strong, of course, by referring to women. But I find it interesting, for example, that at the same time, for this clean minimal art that was celebrated in New York, a trashy artist like Alan Vega also made light art – that was not noticed. That was not the canon, you had no sensitivity for it and you can possibly come across the music or at least I came across these visual works through the music. That means that the canon of fine arts is also expanded.

We have also broken new ground in the catalog. An internet catalog has been created And you can find out about the exhibition at home beforehand, or you can use your smartphone to find out more. Then you can read about the fine arts these artists have made and you will find further information about their musical life.

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