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.

We Jazz June

In honor of the DC Jazz Festival and our own Jazz ‘n Families Fun Days this weekend, here are some works in the collection to get your toes tapping, all of which relate to jazz. Can you see it?

collection music

Clockwise from top left: Gene Davis, Jasmine Jumper, 1966, Acrylic on canvas 119 1/2 x 161 1/2 in.; 303.53 x 410.21 cm.. Gift of Florence Coulson Davis In Memory of Gene Davis, 1992. Stuart Davis, Egg Beater No. 4, 1928, Oil on canvas 27 1/8 x 38 1/4 in.; 68.8975 x 97.155 cm.. Acquired 1939. Elizabeth Murray, Jazz, 2001, 3-dimensional lithograph, Edition 7 of 46 overall: 30 in x 34 in x 4 in; 76.2 cm x 86.36 cm x 10.2 cm. Purchased with funds from the estate of Nathan and Jeanette Miller, 2007. Arthur G., Dove, Me and the Moon, 1937, Wax emulsion on canvas 18 x 26 in.; 45.72 x 66.04 cm.. Acquired 1939. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

Gene Davis said, in a 1975 interview, “My work is mainly about intervals, that is, like in music. Music is essentially time interval, and I’m interested in space interval.”  He was also known to say that he painted “by eye” the way a jazz musician plays “by ear”. Stuart Davis collected jazz records that he played while he worked, replaying them much as he repeated visual elements in his paintings. His daily calendars chronicle purchases of new albums and when he played them. Elizabeth Murray captures the vibrant sound and broken branches of jazz improvisation in her colorful print, Jazz (2001). And Arthur Dove’s Me and the Moon (1937) is named after the 1936 song which he heard on the radio while he worked.

What visual art makes you think of jazz?

Classical Repetitions: Adès, Arcadiana

In classical music programming, repetitions of repertoire are supposed to be a bad thing. We are to reel at the idea of more than one instance of Beethoven’s Appasionata sonata, or shudder at two Death and the Maiden quartets by Schubert in one season. Whilst providing artists the freedom to choose their own repertoire and encouraging adventurous combinations of works is a central principle of the Sunday Concerts series, if the same piece of music appears on two concert programs it can also provide a welcome moment of reflection on the various aspects a piece of music can possess. Would we begrudge van Gogh his several iterations of the Postman Roulin if his subject matter and artistic process were not so fascinating? We can certainly lament their departure from the galleries of the Phillips, where several have lived in such happy juxtaposition during the recent Van Gogh Repetitions exhibition.

So it can be with music too. Those who were able to witness both the Calder Quartet’s performance in November 2013, and the Mivos Quartet Sunday, February 9, would have witnessed two very different performances of Arcadiana, a string suite by the British composer Thomas Adès (b. 1971). An inheritor of the 20th century tradition of Ligeti and others, Adès’s music creates allusions and connections to a musical past, whilst maintaining a thoroughly modern musical palette. The music of Arcadiana (composed when Adès was in his 20s, a year before his first opera, Powder Her Face) is loaded with literary and artistic significance, yet never burdened by it. Six of the seven movements evoke, in Adès’s own words, “various vanished or vanishing idylls.” The ‘idylls’ that he creates are in one breath rooted in the musical antecedence of what sounds like a quotation from Mozart or Schubert, and in the next uprooted, rushing floridly in another direction. Adès also draws upon the visual arts to inform his music: Nicholas Poussin’s Et in Arcadia ego, and Jean-Antoine Watteau’s L’Embarquement pour Cythère, both of which hang in the Louvre. This multiplicity of artistic reference and influence is never exhibited in an overtly programmatic way; rather they appear as opaque suggestions, ambiguous and unstable fragments of mythic realms and distant histories.

The music of Arcadiana is minutely crafted and precise, yet in the hands of excellent players, can appear—with startling immediacy and clarity—as though it were unfolding before you for the first time. When a work of music contains such diversity and artistic depth, it can be deeply invigorating to hear two different groups of players, both equipped with the same musical means, realize its endless possibilities.

The Calder Quartet in performance at The Phillips Collection. Photo: Josh Navarro

The Calder Quartet in a performance at The Phillips Collection. Photo: Josh Navarro

Jeremy Ney, Music Specialist