Jason Moran (and friends) at The Whitney Museum of Art




Image courtesy of The Whitney Museum of Art

The first solo museum show of Jason Moran (b. 1975, Houston, Texas), the interdisciplinary artist who grounds his work in music composition, has made its debut at the Whitney. The exhibition, Jason Moran, presents the range of art Moran has explored, from his sculptures and drawings to collaborations with visual artists to performance and video.

Jason Moran at The Whitney

The exhibition, an immersive installation that has filled the Whitney’s eighth floor galleries is activated by in-gallery musical performances by the artist himself and by other musicians throughout the run of the show.

Scott Rothkopf, Adrienne Edwards & Jason Moran

“Jason Moran is one of the most vital and boundary-breaking creative voices of our time, and his wide-ranging collaborations with other visual and performing artists have had a profoundly generative effect on their work as well as on his own artistic development,” remarked Scott Rothkopf, the Whitney’s Senior Deputy Director and Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator. “This exhibition extends the Whitney’s long and vibrant history of presenting artists who traverse the boundaries of the visual and performing arts and brings together so many artists who are dear to the Museum. We’re thrilled the show marks Adrienne Edward’s curatorial debut in our galleries and also Jason’s return to the Whitney, following his appearances in Glenn Ligon: AMERICA in 2011, and our Biennial the following year.”

Jason Moran, artist

“It is heartening to have the national tour of Jason’s exhibition culminate in New York City, where he and so many of his collaborators live and make their work. New York is where jazz has evolved, and the venues that fostered it are referenced directly in the major sculptures that serve as stages within the show,” noted Edwards. “Presenting the exhibition at the Whitney makes for a double ‘homecoming,’ since Jason and his collaborators have long-standing histories with the Museum, having exhibited here or featuring in our collection. Taking its cue from jason’s art and that of his collaborators, this show questions the boundaries between artistic disciplines and how they are presented. It is a solo show that is also a group show; it takes place in neither a white cube nor a black box theater or nightclub, but rather in an in-between space that is some combination of them all. It is a survey exhibition, yet holds together like a singular art installation ~ at times a visual art show and at other times a performance venue.”

STAGED: Savoy Ballroom 1is lined with an ornate Dutch wax print fabric and features a lush curving wall and overhanging ceiling. The sculpture’s pristine veneer seems counter to the repetitive and droning prison work songs that emanate from speakers.   Image courtesy the Whitney Museum

The legendary Savoy Ballroom, which operated between 1926 and 1958 on Lenox Avenue in Harlem was synonymous with the Swing Era and presented legendary big bands and performers, including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Chick Webb, and Count Basie.

The exhibition, Jason Moran, which originated at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in the spring of 2018, and has traveled nationally to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and Wexner Center for the Arts, considers the artist’s solo and collaborative works as generative investigations that further the fields of experimental jazz, performance, and visual art. Shown together for the first time in this exhibition, Moran’s mixed-media “set” installations STAGED: Savoy Ballroom 1 (2015) above, STAGED: Three Deuces (2015), and STAGED: Slugs’ Saloon (2018), below, pay homage to iconic jazz venues of New York’s past.

STAGED: Three Deuces Club, which operated one 52nd Street from the mid 1940s to 1950s, was an incubator for bebop pioneers like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Max Roach. To evoke this seminal venue with STAGED: Three Deuces, Moran uses pale vinyl padding compressed under a barely eight-foot-tall ceiling and focuses on the corner of a room to conjure the compressed dimensions of the original venue.. Image courtesy the Whitney Museum

Sculptural vignettes based on storied New York City music venues ~ Moran’s STAGED works (above and below) reimagine the architecture of these cultural landmarks and double as concert stages.

STAGED: Slugs’ Saloon pays homage to the celebrated East Village jazz venue that presented music from 1964 to 1972 on East Third Street. Often referred to as a “jazz dive”, Slubs’ Saloon showcased free jazz and some of the most important avant-gardists of the era, including Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and Sun Ra.  The lower level holds a single chair and Wurlitzer Americana II jukebox, programmed with whistling tunes and samplings of audience incantations from the Village Vanguard. Image courtesy the Whitney Museum.

Collaboration has been central to Moran’s experiments, and among the many artists with whom he has collaborated are Stan Douglas, Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin, Theaster Gates, Joan Jonas, Glenn Ligon, Julie Mehretu, Adam Pendleton, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems.

Jason Moran

These collaborative works are exhibited here, many in a synchronized loop arranged by Moran on projection screens. Moran’s original musical scores and a recent selection of his charcoal drawings from the ongoing Run series, which give sculptural presence to sound, are also featured in the exhibition.

Jason Moran’s drawings from the Run Series

Moran’s drawings from the Run series, originally shown at Luring Augustine in 2016 for his first gallery exhibition, offer highly gestural entrees into the artist’s process. To create the works, Moran tapes elongated pieces of paper on the keys of a piano or keyboard and caps his fingers with charcoal.

Jason Moran’s drawing from the Run Series.

The paper then catches the movements of his playing. Reminiscent of Robert Morris’s series of Blind Time drawings, the works also bring to mind David Hammon’s basketball drawings and body prints or the impromptu drawings created by Joan Jonas during live performances. Achieved through acts of repetition, the Run series reveals the usually private and deliberate process of jazz composition and the artist’s performances practice, offering viewers an intimate view of his body’s movements in relation to the piano.

Two marquee events unique to the Whitney’s presentation will be the New York premiere of Kara Walker’s Katastwóf Karavan (2018), a steam-powered calliope housed in a parade wagon, and a special twentieth- anniversary concert for Moran’s trio, The Bandwagon.

Related events include: Member Preview Days for Jason Moran on Wednesday, September 18th and Thursday, September 19th from Noon to 6:00pm; Learning Series Lecture: Collaboration, Improvisation, and Movement in Art one Sunday, September 22nd from 1:00-2:00pm; Jazz on A High Floor in the Afternoon: Archie Shepp on Friday, September 27th at 7:00pm; and Learning Series Lecture: Collaboration, Improvisation, and Movement in Art on Saturday, September 28th from 12:30-1:30pm.

kara walker in the gallery

Further expanding upon the cooperative notion of the set, the exhibition foregrounds Moran’s long-standing relationships with prominent visual artists. His projects with other artists, for which he often composed and performed music, are featured in the gallery as individual works or as part of a compilation of media presented on-screen. Through his many partnerships, Moran embodies the variety of ways in which an artist can collaborate: as instigator, producer, sideman, and co-conspirator.

Jason Moran will be on view at the Whitney Museum of Art from September 20, 2019 through January 5, 2020. The Whitney Museum of American Art is located at 99 Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District.

Jason Moran is organized by the Walker Art Center, and curated by Adrienne Edwards with Danielle A. Jackson. The Whitney’s presentation is overseen by Adrienne Edwards, the Engell Speyer Family Curator and Curator of Performance, with Clémence White, curatorial assistant.

Wurlitzer Americana II Jukebox from STAGED: Slugs’ Saloon

The exhibition is accompanied by a 272-page publication, published in conjunction with the Walker Art Center’s 2018 exhibition, which considers the artist’s practice and his collaborative works as interdisciplinary investigations that further the fields of experimental jazz and visual art. Edited by Adrienne Edwards, it features an interview with the artist, and essays by Philip Bither, Okwul Enwezor, Danielle Jackson, Alicia Hall Moran, George E. Lewis, and Glenn Ligon. These texts are accompanied by a photo essay by Moran, a section documenting the creation of Moran’s STAGED sculptures, installation views from the Walker, photographs and other ephemera, and a complete list of works included in the Walker exhibition.

While you’re there, step across the street to Allouche Gallery, with Rafa Macarron: Fluorescent currently on view.