SONIC YOUTH etc. : SENSATIONAL FIX
3 FEB – 2 MAY 2010
curator ROLAND GROENENBOOM
ORGANIZes LIFE Lieu International des Formes Émergentes (Saint-Nazarie Francia) y Museion Museum of modern and contemporary art (Bolzano, Italy)
The exhibition SONIC YOUTH etc. : SENSATIONAL FIX focuses on the multidisciplinary activities of the groundbreaking experimental guitar band Sonic Youth since its formation in 1981.
From day one, Sonic Youth has been exploring and mapping unknown cultural territories through their activities as a band and as four individual musicians, visual artists or cultural entrepreneurs, each member with his or her specific ties to and within the international cultural scene. The exhibition features the band’s collaborations with visual artists, filmmakers, designers and musicians, as well as a choice of other works selected by the band. Through the multidisciplinary output of Sonic Youth and related works by other artists in the exhibition, an alternative history of contemporary culture is being unfolded, in which underground meets official culture of the last four decades, while themes are explored such as teenage rebellion, adolescent wanderlust, gender, fame, fashion, sexuality, and religion.
The exhibition departs from an ample selection of Sonic Youth paraphernalia that illustrates their comprehensive heterogeneous output and collaborations with other artists, while at the same time it already introduces themes that are explored in depth in further sections of the exhibition. Among the materials exhibited are: artwork for Sonic Youth album covers, a selection of flyers, fanzines, posters, and writings by the band members, as well as photos of the band by artists such as James Welling, Sofia Coppola, and Richard Kern.
Before the band formed, both Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo were trained as visual artists, who upon arrival in New York City in the late 1970s started playing in bands rather than dedicating themselves fully to the production of visual art. This was the case with many of their artist friends as well, like Glenn Branca, Richard Prince or Robert Longo. Gordon in those days also worked off and on for New York art galleries, as well as on her own curatorial projects, while also regularly contributing essays on art and music to magazines such as Artforum. The artist Dan Graham was a central figure in this constellation of visual artists/musicians, and was known to schlep his barely portable tape recorder to concerts of punk rock and no wave bands to record these performances, often held in art galleries and so-called art lofts. Back then, visual art and experimental music seemed to be one and the same energy, and the natural crossover between the two, as was apparent in those days, laid the foundations for the multidisciplinary activities of Sonic Youth.
In the Sonic Prehistory, Thurston Moore, a punk rock aficionado from Connecticut, who later said that he moved to New York City to form a band with Sid Vicious, played venues in Downtown Manhattan with his band The Coachmen, while Lee Ranaldo did the same with his own band, The Fluks, while also playing regularly with Glenn Branca’s guitar ensemble. After some line-up and name changes of his band, Moore in 1981 organised an experimental music festival at White Columns, where his new band Sonic Youth also played. A statement in Soho Weekly News by a club owner who closed his joint because he felt there weren't any good bands in the city, proclaiming that they all just seemed to make a lot of noise, prompted Moore to think “What the fuck. As if that was such a bad thing,” and thus he decided to call the nine-day music event Noise Fest. Kim Gordon, then already a member of Sonic Youth, in collaboration with Barbara Ess, organised an exhibition of visual art by musicians (who actually were for the most part visual artists who were also playing in bands) during the festival. Next to an early line-up of Sonic Youth, Lee Ranaldo and other no wave acts and improv musicians performed at Noise Fest. The selection process in which people were invited to play the festival was a very natural one: the participants consisted of Thurston’s musician friends, some acts that they suggested him to program, and others who heard about the event and offered to play there. This natural way of contacting and organisation has ever since been at the core of Sonic Youth’s collaborations, of which mutual respect and kinship form the basis. Lee Ranaldo later said: “One thing that's really important to us is this notion of inclusion: our career is not just about our little band driving a wedge through the world, it's kind of a journey you go on and you want to take as many people as possible.”
Soon after Noise Fest, Ranaldo joined the band and that same year they recorded their debut album at Radio City Music Hall, to be released by Branca’s Neutral label. Moore later said: “We didn’t know how to play. What set us apart was that we were so unorthodox in our approach. We always knew that what we were doing was our own.” Since then, the band has been true to their attitude to be unorthodox and to do their own thing, and in their comprehensive output they continued – and still continue – to amalgamate punk rock’s rebellious posture with experimental music and conceptual art, a production that in its range and complexity up until today remains unrivalled by that of any other band or artists’ collective.
By the early 1980s, an alternative scene emerged in downtown New York City in which music and visual art were tightly connected, and were collaborations preceded over individual ventures. This scene strongly contrasted that what was going on in the official gallery circuit in this city, where paintings of individual artist were sold for astronomic prices. Both the raw and rebellious attitude of punk and the atonal, violent guitar music of no wave inspired artists from the Lower East Side, like Richard Prince, Lee Ranaldo and Kim Gordon, to play in bands. Since that time, Sonic Youth has successfully combined the rebellious attitude of punk with experimental music and concept art. Works by artists who were active in the New York art scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s are combined in the show with works by succeeding generations of artists who are closely connected to the band. These artists include Dan Graham, Vito Acconci, Tony Oursler, Cindy Sherman, John Miller, Christian Marclay, Jutta Koether, Isa Genzken, Tony Conrad, Reena Spaulings, Maya Miller, and Rita Ackermann.
In the early 1980s, Sonic Youth performed for the first time on the West Coast, where they met and acquainted both musicians and visual artists. West Coast society of the late 1960s is an important point of departure for the creative work of many of these West coast artists like Mike Kelley, Todd Haynes, Dave Markey, Marnie Weber, Raymond Pettibon, and Cameron Jamie, who are in their work informed by the contrast of the glamorous world of Hollywood, radical subjects like Charles Manson and the aggressive Californian hardcore punk of the early 1980s.
The band’s interest in counterculture movements like the Beats and subsequent underground poetry movements resulted in Thurston Moore collecting broadsheets and visual art by poets and other alternative poetry publications. In the exhibition, works by Allen GInsberg, William Burroughs and Ira Cohen are shown next to those by D.A. Levy, Joe Brainard, Gregory Corso, and George Schneeman.
Finally, in a pavilion especially designed for the exhibition by Dan Graham, Sonic Youth’s complete audio output, live recordings of late 1970 and early 1980’s bands recorded by Graham, and rare videos of Sonic Youth and bands from the era are presented.
The exhibition is organised by Dutch curator Roland Groenenboom in close collaboration with Sonic Youth. It was produced by LiFE in St. Nazaire and the Museion in Bozen, where it was presented before the Kunsthalle/KIT in Düsseldorf and the Konsthall in Malmö.
Vito Acconci, Rita Ackermann, Helen Adam, Ray Agony, John Antonelli, Jerry Aronson, Oliver Assayas, Charles Atlas, Lance Bangs, Judith Barry, Ericka Beckman, Pip Benveniste, Janeen vanden Berg, Bob Bert, Dara Birnbaum, Doug Blazek, Angelique Bosio, Joe Brainard, Glenn Branca, William S. Burroughs, C & H Production, John Cage, Merlin Carpenter, Jim Carroll, Zoë Casavettes, Tom Clark, The Club in the Shadow, Ira Cohen, Joe Cole, Loren Mazzacane Connors, Tony Conrad, Clark Coolidge, Sofia Coppola, Gregory Corso, Paula Court, Sam Crack, Tamra Davis, Tacita Dean, James Denboer, Claire Denis, Nick Egan, Barbara Ess, John Fahey, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jeff Feuerzeig, John Fortenberry, Peter Fowler, frogme, Marco Fusinato, Isa Genzken, Allen Ginsberg, Stefano Giovannini, Tomoo Gokita, Jack Goldstein, Mark Gonzales, Kim Gordon, Dan Graham, Rodney Graham, Gary Grimshaw, Matt Groening, Brion Gysin, Chris Habib, Tim Hailand, John Harnois, Grant Hart, Todd Haynes, Steve Helweg, Dick Higgins, Åke Hodell, Jenny Holzer, Herbert Hunke, Sidney E. Hushuour, Marc Jacobs, Cameron Jamie, LeRoi Jones (a.k.a. Amiri Baraka), Spike Jonze, Benjamin Katz, Steve Keene, Mike Kelley, Richard Kern, David Kerslake, Braden King, Jutta Koether, Harmony Korine, Tom Kriens, Tim Irwin, Michael Lavine, D.A. Levy, Dan MacAdam, George Maciunas, Gerard Malanga, Malleus, Christian Marclay, Dave Markey, Dylan Martorell, Paul McCarthy, Michael McClure, David Meltzer, Maurice Menares, John Miller, Maya Miller, Robert Mooney, Thurston Moore, Michael Morley, Phil Morrison, Michael Motorcycle, George Myers, John H. Myers, Bill Nace, Pauline Oliveros, John Olson, Roberto Opalio, Jim O’Rourke, Patty Orsini, Tony Oursler, Steve Paine, Steven Parrino, Raymond Pettibon, Edwin Pouncey (a.k.a. Savage Pencil), Richard Prince, Lee Ranaldo, Tom Raworth, Rene Ricard, Darnell Roaten, Mark Romanek, Ed Ruscha, Gus van Sant, Wilhelm Sasnal, Paul Sharits, George Schneeman, Adriane Schramm, Jordan Schwartz, Jim Shaw, Cindy Sherman, J.M. Sherry, Steve Shelley, David Shrigley, Leah Singer, Mike Smith, Patti Smith, Robert Smithson, Sonic Youth, Reena Spaulings, Jack Spicer, Sun Ra, Tom Surgal, Kathy Temin, Tuesday, Dennis Tyfus, Alan Vega, Anne Waldmant, Angus Wall, Jeff Wall, Mike Watt, Marnie Weber, James Welling, Philip Whalon, Joshua White, John Wieners, Christopher Wool, Shinya Yamamoto, Nate Young, Zeloot, Alivia Zivich.
An extended publication from Roland Groenenboom in association with Sonic Youth. In addition to interviews, catalogue essays and archive material, it also includes two vinyls on which each of the four sides is dedicated to the work of one of the members of the band.
Sensational Fix Zines
#4 with Lee Ranaldo/Leah Singer
#5 with Kim Gordon/Thurston Moore
More info: sensationalfix.blogspot.com
LIFE Saint Nazaire, France, June – September 2008
Museion Bolzano, Italy, October 2008 – January 2009
Kunsthalle Dusseldorf, Germany, January – May 2009
Malmö Konsthall, Sweden, May – September 2009
CA2M, Madrid, Spain, February – May 2010
Performance Sonic Youth y Enrique Morente