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Give my regards to Eighth Street

“Give my regards to Eighth Street”: Edgard Varèse, Morton Feldman, and their friends at the Whitney Studio, the Artists’ Club, and the New York Studio School

An audio-visual presentation, written and presented by Olivia Mattis

Christian Wolff, Earle Brown, John Cage, and Morton Feldman, Capitol Records Studio, New York City, ca. 1962

This interactive, audio-visual display, written and narrated by Olivia Mattis, celebrates Eighth Street as an unique intersection of advanced music and visual art at different times in the Twentieth Century.  The display – divided into two parts, The Whitney Years and The New York School – draws upon historic footage, archival photographs, original interviews, lecture recordings from the archives of the New York Studio School, documents, works of art and narration to present a compelling account of artistic collaboration and creative kinship.

In the second decade of the Twentieth Century, Edgard Varèse, Carl Ruggles and their circle were patronized by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Juliana Force, who hosted the International Composers Guild at premises that went on to become the Whitney Museum of American Art. Varèse and younger composers John Cage and Morton Feldman were active as guests of the legendary Artists Club just down the block on Eighth Street in the forties and fifties.  Artist members of the Club included Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock and – when they belatedly admitted women – Mercedes Matter, founder, with a group of students, of the New York Studio School in 1964.  Feldman would serve as Dean of the Studio School in 1969-71.

The exhibition draws on rich resources to tell a fascinating story in colorful detail.  We hear the voices of Marcel Duchamp and Varèse in conversation about their early days together in New York during the First World War, Earle Brown reminiscing about how avant garde composers collaborated with jazz musicians in Greenwich Village, John Cage describing the unique support of visual artists for beleaguered experimental composers like himself in the postwar period, and Morton Feldman and Philip Guston debating the nature of language in their respective art forms.  We see reproductions of artworks by musical personalities: Ruggles and Varèse, Cage and Alcopley; and portraits of the composers by artists as diverse as Alexander Calder, Thomas Hart Benton, Joseph Stella, John Sloan, Philip Guston, R.B. Kitaj and Francesco Clemente.

One very specific way in which composers responded to the work of their painter friends – explored in depth in Give my regards to Eighth Street – was by providing the soundtracks to documentary movies about those artists.  Varèse scored sections of films by Thomas Bouchard on Léger and Miró, for instance, while Feldman wrote music for films by Hans Namuth on Pollock and de Kooning.  In addition to clips of these films in the audio-visual display, visitors to the exhibition may view both Namuth films in their entirety thanks to their generous loan by the artist’s estate.  A documentary profile on Earle Brown can also be viewed in its entirety, along with documentary sources referenced in the display such as the Dada journal, The Blind Man, the catalogue of an exhibition of abstract painting curated by Feldman in Houston.

The audio-visual display was shown in one of the rooms where, quite possibly, Ruggles and Varèse lectured or where the ICG convened.  On view, with the AV display were portraits of two of the key personalities in this story: a bronze bust of Varèse by Gaston Lachaise, and a print by R.B. Kitaj, Fifties Grand Swank (Morton Feldman) that incorporates, among its collage components, a photograph of Kitaj’s own portrait of Feldman in oils.

Give my regards to Eighth Street was written and presented by music historian Olivia Mattis who is currently writing a biography of Varèse, and was produced by David Cohen, Gallery Director at the New York Studio School.

Exhibited in L-Shaped studio.

After the exhibition, Give my regards to Eighth Street will be on view by appointment at the School Library.

Snapshots From NYSS

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