Word has started to get out that Contemporary Arts Center’s 2012-2013 season will feature a major show by Patti Smith. But it hasn’t yet been made clear — because the show isn’t scheduled until next May — that this is meant to be far more than just a local stop on a national museum tour.
One of punk’s originators who has evolved over decades into a key “elder stateswoman” for the transformational, idealistic power of Rock music, Smith has also pursued visual art and writing, especially poetry. Her memoir about her early years in New York with friend (and future photographer) Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids, won a 2010 National Book Award. And a current touring museum exhibit of her black-and-white photographs, Camera Solo, just opened at Detroit Institute of Arts. (At the same time, she released a new album, Banga, last week.) At 65, she seems to be speeding up, not slowing down.
It could be assumed that Detroit show — or one like it — would be coming here in May.
But the plans are for the Smith exhibition to be more — much more. According to Justine Ludwig, CAC’s curator for the show, it is a result of her requests for Smith to do something special for the CAC. Rather than photographs, it will focus on her drawings, poetry and installation art, at least some of which might be created just for the show.
Ludwig began discussing the show with Smith’s New York dealer, Robert Miller Gallery, after being moved by one of her sculptural “litters.” It is an art installation that uses wood and netting to evoke — with elegiac subtlety — a coffin-like/tent-like stretcher carrying someone to a final resting place.
But the show will also feature drawings, poetry and maybe something else. Smith will be coming to CAC not just to assist with the planning and installation, but also to do a series of performances in connection with the exhibition. These probably will include some small-scale events, Ludwig and CAC Director and Chief Curator Raphaela Platow said, maybe readings or performance art. But aware that there is going to be huge local demand for a full-scale Rock concert by the Patti Smith Group as part of the activities, both Ludwig and Platow said they are working on it. It would involve partnering with a concert promoter. You’ll have to hold your Horses until more is known.
Ludwig said Smith was interested in CAC because of two factors: She respected the CAC’s ultimately successful legal fight in 1990 to show The Perfect Moment, a posthumous retrospective of Mapplethorpe’s photos that included work with homoerotic imagery, despite efforts by socially conservative elements to shut it down. She also was impressed that CAC has kept a Shephard Fairey-created mural of Smith in its front lobby, for two years now.
Platow played down the Mapplethorpe connection, but said the mural did make a difference to Smith. And, indeed, it will stay up until next year’s show.
Meanwhile, the September-February Andy Warhol: Image Machine show that will begin the upcoming season has taken on an added dimension, Platow said. It still primarily will center on the snapshots he took as both an adjunct to and source for his Pop art. As such, the show — curated by Joseph D. Ketner II of Boston’s Emerson College — will be a key element to the citywide FotoFocus celebration of photography that begins in fall.
But the CAC is adding some new angles — a recreation of elements of Warhol’s 1966 show at CAC, Holy Cow! Silver Clouds! Holy Cow! It will also have several of his “screen tests,” the short, silent black-and-white films he took of visitors to his New York studio, known as the Factory. And in November, the Rock performers Dean and Britta (of Luna) will perform 13 Most Beautiful…Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, a song cycle they were commissioned to write in 2008 for the Andy Warhol Museum and a Pittsburgh festival.
The CAC’s four other announced art exhibitions also look intriguing: Green Acres: Artists Farming Fields, Greenhouses and Abandoned Lots (September-February) was curated by Sue Spaid, director of Baltimore’s Contemporary Art Museum; the Platow-curated Hema Upadhyay and Atul Dodiya (February-May) presents two contemporary Indian artists; Ludwig’s Joey Versoza show (February-May) gives this Cincinnati artist his first museum exhibit; and Ludwig’s The Living Room (May-September, 2013) allows four local artists to turn a gallery into a domestic space to see if it changes how we view art.
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