Now in New York
December 27, 20120
At MOMA, right now as I write, is a rather remarkable work called “Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on ‘Ode to Joy’ for a Prepared Piano,” constructed (as it were) by Allora and Calzadilla, a team which will be representing the US at the next Venice Biennale. This performance was exhibited in 2008 at the Haus der Kunst in Munich in 2008, and then at the Gladstone Gallery in Chelsea in 2009. I MISSED IT. In the second-floor atrium at MOMA, it reminds us of, as Roberta Smith states it in a review neatly entitled “Popping Out to Play Beethoven,” in the Weekend Arts section of the New York Times of December 10, 2010, all the “interventionist, appropriation and interactive art, which stretch from FLUXUS to relational aesthetics, with many stops in between.” I am going to rush to see it before January 10 (it is performed every hour, so I have no excuse from the snow drifts or anything else). In the photo I see, there is Evan Shinners performing the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on – no, out of – a hole in a prepared Bechstein. And then another photo, of Mia Elzovic, and the audience moving around to follow the piano as it moves… Who could resist?
Now, the Allora-Calzadilla team quotes Gordon Matta-Clark’s sliced-open buildings as inspiration. Roberta Smith remembers a photo of Robert Rauschenberg performing the 1963 dance “Pelican” on roller skates, a parachute open on his back. OK. Now let’s talk about the piano. The hole means that two octaves of strings are gone, so there are just thumps in the middle. The pedals are reversed, in case that makes easier the task, I would think rather complicated, of performing upside down and from the inside out. Some performers make mistakes (really?) and some make key changes, unable to reach the black keys.
Oh, the back story. It was among Hitler’s favorite pieces of music: now that is really comforting, and to know that Wilhelm Furtwangler conducted a performance of the Beethoven in 1942, on Hitler’s birthday, this was at the Haus der Kunst, again, or rather, before. And it was the national anthem of Rhodesia (very apartheid, as is pointed out), and featured as part of Western music by the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution (you know, part of the workers’ struggle), and is now the anthem of our own European Union.
Because we recognize the music so well, we can all
appreciate, says Smith, the “deflating distortions visited upon it in its latest incarnation” in which Allora and Calzadeilla have made a new youthful masterpiece of the old one. Let me quote a sentence verbatim, from her review: “The result is a performance in extremis, and possibly a form of reparation for the regimes the music, in its greatness, has served.” This is a good in extremis.