Kamasi Washington part of 2017 Whitney Biennial (which opens this week)
The 2017 Whitney Biennial begins Friday, March 17 -- the first they've had since the museum moved downtown in 2015 and one of the most anticipated art events of the year. Taking part this time is acclaimed saxophonist Kamasi Washington who has written a new work, Harmony of Difference (with video by filmmaker A. G. Rojas), which can be found on the fifth floor of The Whitney:
For the 2017 Whitney Biennial, Kamasi Washington created Harmony of Difference, an original six-movement suite that explores the philosophical possibilities of the musical technique known as counterpoint, which Washington defines as “the art of balancing similarity and difference to create harmony between separate melodies.”
Washington’s suite includes visual elements wedded to the musical works and draws voraciously from the history of jazz. Each of the first five movements is its own unique composition. The sixth movement, accompanied by a projected film, fuses all five compositions into one simultaneous performance. Beyond the impulse to expand the artistic possibilities within the concept of counterpoint, Washington wanted to create something that opened people’s minds to the gift of diversity. In his own words, “My hope is that witnessing the beautiful harmony created by merging different musical melodies will help people realize the beauty in our own differences.”
Harmony of Difference will feature the first new music from Washington since his lauded 2015 triple-LP The Epic. Note, this is not a live performance, it's a sound and video installation.
Also on the fifth floor are a series of text paintings by Frances Stark that are based on based on Censorship Now!, the book of essays by Ian Svenonius (Nation of Ulysses/The Make-up/Chain & The Gang):
Frances Stark’s recent series on view in the Biennial borrows from the incendiary writing of punk musician, cult figure, and author Ian F. Svenonius. Stark hand-painted page-spreads from the title essay in his 2015 book Censorship Now!! In the essay, Svenonius contends that the battle for artistic freedom of speech has been “won” at the cost of art’s irrelevance and powerlessness, suggesting that this supposed liberty only makes artists both more complicit in, and more vulnerable to, militaristic and capitalistic oppression. Artists, he proposes, should take control of censorship in order to eliminate everything from bland nonsense to mass-produced pop to expressions of fascist ideology. Svenonius’s tone is extreme, but Stark leaves it to us to determine his intent. She painted the text on a monumental scale, indicating a high level of commitment to his radical position, especially the ideas in passages she has underlined.
There is obviously lots more to this Big Deal event. (Vulture offers up a nice overview.) The 2017 Whitney Biennial runs through June 11.