Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967

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Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967
Slater Bradley, The Year of the Doppelganger, 2004. Courtesy of the artist and Team Gallery.

CHICAGO.-The explosive social and political climate of the late-1960s produced a revolutionary spirit that led to the fusion of avant-garde art and rock music. Artists as diverse as Andy Warhol, The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, and Richard Hamilton burst forth with new creative endeavors. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, presents Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967, the first major exhibition devoted to the convergence of contemporary art and rock music over the past forty years. Sympathy for the Devil opens on September 29, 2007, the MCA’s official 40th Anniversary and the kick-off of “40 Free Days,” and closes on January 6, 2008.

The exhibition title is culled from the notorious 1968 Rolling Stones song and incorporates visual art, music, and film to present the unified products of traditionally serious visual art and rebellious and irreverent rock music. The exhibition is loosely arranged in six geographical sections: New York, West Coast/Los Angeles, Midwest, United Kingdom, Europe, and “The World.”

New York - New York City has served as the pioneering leader of the merging of art and rock music from the mid-1960s to the present. In the late 1960s, Andy Warhol’s studio, known as The Factory, became a meeting point for New York’s underground cultural scene. Warhol collaborated with musical artists who were far from the pop music mainstream at the time and provided them greater visibility and opportunities to further unite rock music and art. Warhol’s Screen Tests films featuring Lou Reed, Maureen Tucker, John Cale, and others are featured in the exhibition. A decade later punk, New Wave, and No Wave bands shared stages and gallery spaces with visual artists who often participated as performers.

New York artists presented in Sympathy for the Devil include Tony Oursler, Richard Prince, Dan Graham, Christian Marclay, Adam Pendleton, and Jack Pierson. Fourteen portrait prints by Richard Prince feature notable art and music figures such as Brian Eno, Jeff Koons, David Byrne, Amos Poe, Dee Dee Ramone, Peter Nadin, Jenny Holzer, Laurie Anderson, and David Byrne. The exhibition also features a massive new floor-to-ceiling Rita Ackermann mural on the MCA entrance wall; photographs from Richard Kern’s provocative New York Girls series and film stills from Submit to Me Now; and Slater Bradley’s film Year of the Doppelganger that examines the masculine identity through the comparison of musical and athletic types.

Christian Marclay layers a gallery floor with vinyl records and a large-scale commissioned work by Adam Pendleton comprised of 90 black-and-white silkscreen fragmented post-punk figures and symbols is presented in the MCA atrium. Jack Pierson’s sign lettering sculpture, Phil Spector, is strongly reminiscent of the ransom-note-like graphic style of 1970s punk rock and recognizes the once-renowned and currently maligned rock producer, Phil Spector.

West Coast/Los Angeles - The relationship between art and rock music on the West Coast was not as close knit as the New York scene. The West Coast scene consisted of disparate trends such as San Francisco’s psychedelic culture of the 1960s and Los Angeles’ anti-establishment figures such as Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and Raymond Pettibon. Drawings for flyers and album covers that Pettibon created for the bands on his brother, Greg Ginn’s, independent record label, SST, are displayed. Los Angeles artist Mark Flores’ drawings of Iggy Pop and Jane (formerly Wayne) County are installed in the MCA’s restrooms. Other West Coast artists include Marnie Weber, Rodney Graham, Thaddeus Strode, Dave Muller, The Residents, and Mungo Thomson. A neon sign installation, Velvet Underground/Perfect World by Jason Rhoades is also featured.

Midwest - A number of Midwest artists and musicians embraced the avant-garde scene. Destroy all Monsters, the collaboration of Jim Shaw, Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, and Niagara began in the 1970s as an anti-rock band at the University of Michigan. The band crafted a menagerie of words, images, paintings, and sounds inspired by film noir, monster movies, and psychedelic culture. Several recent paintings celebrating their cultural roots in Detroit are featured in Sympathy for the Devil. Emerging Chicago artists Melanie Schiff and Josh Mannis, whose works are inspired by vintage rock and roll culture, are featured. Schiff was also the May 2007 UBS 12 x 12: New Artists/New Work artist at the MCA. Other Midwest artists include Ed Paschke, Pedro Bell, Karl Wirsum, and Jim Drain.

United Kingdom - The relationship between avant-garde art and rock music in the U.K. was greatly nurtured by art schools that supported and promoted an active creative exchange. Rock figures Pete Townsend and Keith Richards and bands such as Gang of Four emerged directly from art schools. U.K. artists featured include Richard Hamilton, Savage Pencil (Edwin Pouncy), Scott King, and Douglas Gordon. Gordon’s installation of videos from his Bootleg series feature slowed and manipulated footage from concert videos of the Smiths, the Cramps, and the Rolling Stones. Cosey Fanni Tutti, a member of the transgressive performance collective COUM Transmissions, which became the industrial rock pioneers Throbbing Gristle, is represented with ephemera that documents her own activities as well as those of the two music groups. Jim Lambie, visual artist, DJ, and ex-member of the popular Glaswegian band, The Boy Hairdressers, which went on to become Teenage Fanclub, captures the energy and spirit of rock music with his sculpture floor installation incorporating multi-colored electrical tape.

Europe - Although the European crossover between art and rock and roll was a continent-wide phenomenon, much of the most important expressions took place in Germany. The Düsseldorf and Cologne art and music scene produced experimental Krautrock music groups from the 1970s such as Kraftwerk, Neu!, and Can; and musically-inspired visual artists in the 1980s and 1990s such as Martin Kippenberger and Kai Althoff. Among the other European artists featured in the exhibition are important female music and art figures Jutta Koether, Pipilotti Rist, and Aleksandra Mir.

The World - From Japanese Pop artist Yoshitomo Nara to Mexico City’s Daniel Guzman’s noir rock-themed drawings, and Thaiborn artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, many different countries explore and celebrate the fusion of art and rock music. Guzman also painted an enormous floor-to-ceiling mural in the MCA atrium for the MCA’s current feature exhibition, Escultura Social: A New Generation of Art from Mexico City. The Brazilian artist collaborative, assume vivid astro focus, creates a new large-scale graphic collage on a gallery wall and floor. The popular artist group incorporates pop culture and music into their work and made a large wall collage for the MCA’s Tropicália: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture exhibition in 2005. Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Plexiglas silent recording studio offers Chicago musicians a chance to cut a free demo CD while performing in the galleries.

Many art-rock music videos will be presented including videos by Art & Language and the Red Krayola, Mark Leckey, Pipilotti Rist, Richard Kern, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Robert Longo, and Tony Oursler. Sympathy for the Devil is curated by MCA Curator Dominic Molon.

Travel Schedule - Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami: May 31 – September 8, 2008. Exhibition Catalogue - The first publication to present a comprehensive history of art’s relationship to rock music features an exhibition overview by MCA Curator Dominic Molon. Essays on specific aspects of the relationship between the art and music scenes are written by rock critic Simon Reynold; Robert Nickas, an independent curator and critic based in New York; and Jan Tum

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