Man Ray Set To Music

Local songwriter Andrew Trotter recently visited Man Ray–Human Equations while taking part in a songwriting challenge. “When I walked in, I knew there had to be a song there. After I wrote the lyrics for the challenge, trying to capture some of the qualities of Man Ray’s art, my musical collaborator from Canada, Natalie Edelson, put it to appropriately surreal music and made a demo,” says Trotter. He was kind enough to share the final product with us; check out the demo and an excerpt of the lyrics below.

Man Ray
White skull, pale breast
Kitchen implement,
Object, soft flesh
Is that what you meant?

Man Ray,
Won’t you come down to play,
The artists at the cafe
Are making their moves
On lovely young things today.

Man Ray
You pictured a derriere,
Each part of her is fair,
But this butterfly you’ll never get,
Slipped out of your camera’s net.

(Chorus)
Man Ray,
What is this game you play,
Why don’t you let things stay
As they are—you’re pushing it way too far.

Coming Together in Signac’s L’Orgue

Paul Signac, L’Orgue, Cover design for the composition by Gabriel Fabre on a poem by Charles Cros, 1893. Lithograph with watercolor additions, 14 1/4 x 11 in. Gift of John Rewald. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Paul Signac, L’Orgue, Cover design for the composition by Gabriel Fabre on a poem by Charles Cros, 1893. Lithograph with watercolor additions, 14 1/4 x 11 in. Gift of John Rewald. The Museum of Modern Art, New  York. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The recent panel discussion Neo-Impressionists and Symbolists: Allies and Rivals provided me with a better sense of how artists in the exhibition used poetry and music within their work, sometimes trying to create a synergy of the senses or synesthesia. Synesthesia involves the union of sensation from multiple art forms; for example, one could hear music and see color, or see a painting that evokes music. One of the artworks discussed during the panel, L’Orgue by Paul Signac, is illustrated here. The work combines poetry, music, and visual art.

Created in 1891, the piece is a cover design for a musical composition by Gabriel Fabre—which was inspired from a poem by Charles Cros. Little is known of Fabre other than that he fraternized with the Parisian Symbolist circles, including Signac and Cros. Cros a writer, inventor, and poet, aspired  to create poetry that used evocative imagery and lyrical, rhythmic language.

Charles Saunier, a critic for the literary and art magazine La Plume, commented on Signac’s L’Orgue: “First a melancholy German ballad, a melodious rustle of wind, then the harmonies which…persist quietly sad while the voice dies down. Thus smoke from an altar candle rises blue in the abandoned cathedral. For this melody the painter Paul Signac composed a strange lithograph heightened with color; roses, stained glass, altar candles illuminating a coffin.”

I think this perfectly captures the combination and equality of the arts that Signac created in his cover design; a synesthetic experience that allows the viewer to experience poetry, music, and visual art simultaneously.

Kelley Daley, Graduate Intern for Lectures and Programs

Pedro Lasch’s Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction: Part 5

Today artist Pedro Lasch premiered his work Abstract Nationalism/National Abstraction: Anthems for Four Voices at The Phillips Collection as part of the International Forum Weekend in Washington. In this audio-visual performance, national anthems of specific countries are sung in the language of the country listed alphabetically after it in the World Almanac.

In a six part blog series, Curatorial Intern Lauren Reuter asks the artist about this work and how it fits into the Phillips, art, and politics. Read Part 1 herePart 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.

How do you envision the project’s relationship with this audience? What do you want your audience to come away with?

I try to make work that is for a wide range of ages and backgrounds. The range is really important to me and the work is designed to do that. And that full range for me also includes the unsuspecting audience member who came either to the International Forum event or came to the Phillips that day and encounters the work; they stumble upon the work and don’t know what the background is. It may be someone who works at the embassies and came to the Phillips, or someone who may have absolutely no interest in national culture or nationalism.

Performance of Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction

Performance of Pedro Lasch’s Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction Composition No. 20 and 46 in The Phillips Collection Music Room

But with this project, the raw materials of national symbols and songs are materials that most of the people of the world, on this planet, have to care about. We don’t have a choice. Whether you like it or not, you had to at one point come to terms with being associated with your flag and anthem. When you encounter something that uses a flag, whether it’s a Jasper Johns artwork or an ad on TV, you have a connection with it. Hopefully that connection will let us bring in all kinds of audiences that don’t usually engage with social practice work or with the Phillips, necessarily. But it should also open up people who may be used to visiting the Phillips only to see modern art, or in the case of the International Forum, a conference. This may become the first social practice artwork they are a part of. That’s really the beauty of it, and that’s why I make the art. It’s not that I just enjoy the process, but that I don’t know the answers. To me, the response of a kid who speaks Spanish at home and can sing the US national anthem for the first time in this language is as important as a scholar of contemporary art practice who may hate anthems and flags and be very uncomfortable by the whole situation.