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01 September 2010

Fun Things Abroad

This summer has been especially rich with travel, most of it for the sheer pleasure of attending Cage-related events in Europe. Since June, I've visited Newcastle, Florence, and Halberstadt, and while each of the host organizations and/or venues has fairly extensive expository Web materials to browse, I thought I'd share some unique photos, a few words about highlights, and some links. Each was lovely, in its own unique way.

First stop, Newcastle, in the north of England, for the first of five venues of "Every Day is Good Day," the brainchild of Roger Malbert and Jeremy Millar brought forth as a touring exhibition under the auspices of London's Southbank Centre (where Malbert is senior curator). This is an exhibition deeply inspired by John Cage, since the use of chance operations determines the layout of the exhibition from venue to venue. More than 100 works, most borrowed from the permanent collection of the John Cage Trust and including drawings, watercolors, and prints, are seen in ever-changing configurations. And although the exhibition itself focuses on Cage's visual art, each venue is programming ancillary events that explore other aspects of Cage's practices -- music, to be sure, but also writings, dance, performance, and film. The exhibition catalog is the first to touch upon all aspects of Cage's work as a visual artist, and it includes more than 60 plates. It also incorporates a substantial extract from Irving Sandler's thoughtful 1966 interview with Cage on the subject of visual art.

Newcastle's Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art is grand, and the collection breathes beautifully here. I especially loved its installation of Cage's HPSCHD (seen above). While the Baltic iteration closes on Sept. 5, others can be seen successively at Kettle's Yard in Cambridge (Sept. 25-Nov. 14), the Huddersfield Museum and Art Gallery (Nov. 20-Jan. 8), Glasgow's Hunterian Art Gallery (Feb. 19-Apr. 2), and the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea (Apr. 16-June 5). There may be a culminating event at Southbank itself, in September 2011, so stay tuned.

Second stop*, Florence, for a lively "musicircus" (June 24, 2010) at the exquisite national museum of the Palazzo Vecchio. Imagine some 80 of Cage's compositions sounding variously (and simultaneously) throughout these hallowed halls -- really, one could only marvel at the sheer presence of electronic sound in the Salone dei Cinquecento! The event was entitled "Music Exposed" and involved roughly 40 musicians of the seasoned Flamensemble, headed up by Andrea Cavallari. Their performances ran for over eight hours (attended by literally thousands of people), which were beautifully captured by the remarkable photographer Riccardo Cavallari (incidentally, Andrea's twin brother!). Check out his slideshow here.

*An asterisk here because technically my second stop was Lyon for discussions with Thierry Raspail, director of the Musee d'art contemporain de Lyon, about bringing France into the John Cage 2012 fold. With luck, more about this later in the year.

Third stop, Halberstadt, to not only bear witness (July 5, 2010) to a note change in Cage's elongated Organ2/ASLSP in the Church of St. Buchardi but to execute it! While the work was launched by the John Cage Organ Project on Cage's birthday in 2001, this was my first visit and it was something of an epiphany. I usually arrive only for the bittersweet culmination of people's engagement with Cage, but in Halberstadt it was I who was ephemeral, since the work will be ongoing long after any of us is here to witness. It was an extremely moving experience -- as much for the people involved as for the sounding of the work. And in case you missed it, here's Daniel Wakin's piece as it appeared in the New York Times (2007), sweetly entitled "An Organ Recital for the Very, Very Patient."

The image just above, by the way, is of the gateway to a garden situated behind the home of one of the key participants of the John Cage Organ Project, where many meals were shared. In my experience, such gathering spots are critical, since they not only provide necessary respites for weary travelers, but the even more necessary space to communally reflect and converse. I am reminded of the many, many impromptu late-night, post-concert suppers at the Cage-Cunningham loft, for which I will always be grateful. New York City can be a lonely place without them.

Laura Kuhn