Sunday, September 29, 2013
A Tingle of Memory
Tinguely's 1960 Happening was called Hommage to New York: a giant "self-destroying" machine that flamed out in the old Museum of Modern Art garden. At the exhibit I just saw in New York called Radio Waves at Sperone Westwater Gallery there was a longer video of it. My memory of staring at a burned up piano in the MoMA garden as a teenager made me think "I was there", a kid who thought "wow, cool." Amazingly when I was at the exhibit, the curator, David Leiber, happened to be there. I asked him if there had been a smaller happening, just with a piano. All I remembered was the piano. "That was a long time ago" he said. I needed him to help me understand my memory. What was it really?
What he wrote in the brochure about the exhibit did help me. He referred to it as having been derisively described in the press at the time as "Black-tie Dada". I was not there for a crowded black-tie evening event. My memory is of sitting in the sunshine in the daytime, in a garden that wasn't crowded at all, looking at a charred burned out piano. They must have kept the residue for a while after the self-destruct burning. Was it actually smoking, like embers in a fireplace? Or did I just see it smoking in my mind? Did I imagine the whole burning because I read a blurb near the piano that described what had happened? Or because I saw videos of it years later? Who knows. Memory is so slippery.
All I know is that when New York was transformed in the 1960's by artists using junk, it intersected my teen-age life. I lived near New York and soaked it up, as star-struck by these artists as I was by Hollywood movie stars. Now that decades later I am a found-object assemblage artist, a member of the Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia, I can only be grateful that somehow fascination with junk seeped under my skin at a young age.
This piece by Jean Tinguely called Radio No. 1 was exhibited together with a DVD of it in motion that included the tinny and sweet sounds of its radio. It was so touching.