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Blues for Smoke at the Wexner

December 24, 2013

Blues for Smoke, on view at the Wexner Center for the Arts from September 21 through December 29, examines the influence of blues music or the blues aesthetic on visual art.  Organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Curator Bennett Simpson, and previously at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the exhibition features over 40 modern and contemporary artists. Blues for Smoke ranges in art forms including installations, paintings, photographs, video and sculptures, and includes the music and documented performances of some of the great figures of blue music, including Jaki Byard, whose 1960 album Blues for Smoke was the namesake for this exhibition.


P1050365David Hammons, Chasing the Blue Train, 1989, Collection S.M.A.K., Ghent, Belgium. Top photo by Dirk Pauwels.

Bill Horrigan, the Wexner’s curator at large, answered some questions for me regarding the Blues for Smoke in a to-be-published article for the Dayton City Paper.  “Although Blues for Smoke is primary an exhibition of visual art, it also includes numerous instances of recorded music, not intended to ‘illustrate’ the artworks but to demonstrate how some of the moods and effects generated by the artworks are remarkably similar to what the music clips are evoking. In some cases, though, there’s a pointed connection between what the viewer is seeing and the music being heard in the gallery; the strongest example of this is in Gallery A, when one can hear Ornette Coleman and Theolonius Monk coming from the boom-boxes in David Hammons’ Chasing the Blue Train, reverberating within the same space as portraits of such jazz luminaries as Billie Holliday, John Coltrane, and Mary Lou Williams (by Roy DeCarava) and Charlie Parker (by Beauford Delaney). One hope is that as viewers move through the galleries, they’ll respond to some artworks that aren’t immediately understandable as having a musical reference, they might begin to look at the work differently and see how it might be interacting with other works in the show.”
IMG_3277Installation view at the Wexner Center for the Arts

“The earliest works in the show are the portraits mentioned above, and they date from a time before electronic media had staked a claim on the space of the gallery. One piece that’s interesting in this regard is Stan Douglas’s Hors-Champs, in one sense a kind of ‘portrait,’ but using sophisticated audio-video tools to bring the musicians more vibrantly to life.

Columbus has a rich tradition of blues and jazz musicians who were born and raised here, and so information about them was included in the exhibition’s gallery guide and in a specially produced video that ran for part of the exhibition in our video space, The Box.”


leonard_1961Zoe Leonard, 1961, 2002- ongoing, Blue suitcases. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, Germany
Photo by Bill Jacobson.

“Zoe’s Leonard’s two pieces – one consisting of sewn fruit skins and one consisting of a long progression of blue suitcases – are both somewhat mysterious evocations, the first vaguely intimating a wounded world of pain, the second suggesting abandonment or disappearance…in that sense providing a poetic link to the world of blues, a world in which pain, hardship, and human trauma is never absent.”

IMG_3281Lorna Simpson, For My Best Friend, 2013

Artists featured in Blues for Smoke include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Gregg Bordowitz, Mark Bradford, Roy DeCarava, Beauford Delaney, Jeff Donaldson, Stan Douglas, Jimmie Durham, Melvin Edwards, William Eggleston, Charles Gaines, Renée Green, David Hammons, Kira Lynn Harris, Rachel Harrison, Barkley L. Hendricks, Leslie Hewitt, Martin Kippenberger, Jutta Koether, Liz Larner, Zoe Leonard, Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, Rodney McMillian, Dave McKenzie, Mark Morrisroe, Matt Mullican, Senga Nengudi, Kori Newkirk, Lorraine O’Grady, John Outterbridge, William Pope.L, Jeff Preiss, Amy Sillman, Lorna Simpson, Henry Taylor, Alma Thomas, Bob Thompson, Wu Tsang, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Jack Whitten, William T. Williams, and Martin Wong.

More information about Blues for Smoke is available at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Blues for Smoke is accompanied by a fully illustrated color catalogue copublished by MOCA and Prestel/DelMonico.

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