Critics’ Picks

View of “Do What I Want: Selections from the Arthur Russell Papers,” 2017.

New York

Arthur Russell

Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) | Peter Jay Sharp Building
30 Lafayette Avenue
March 1 - May 14

The exhibition “Do What I Want: Selections from the Arthur Russell Papers” is a posthumous homage to a pioneer of electronic music who spent most of his career overlooked. Russell, nearly penniless toward the end of his life, died from AIDS in 1992. This show, an invitation to glance at the various facets of a musical genius, is a visual elegy filled with posters, snapshots, and letters from record producers, such as David Berson of Warner Brothers and Jan Abramowitz of Metronome. And the exhibition’s intimate setup is brilliantly designed to make viewers feel as though they’re part of an exclusive inner circle.

Snapshots narrate the more charmed parts of a difficult life. In one of them, Russell is with his mother on a sunny day, riding a sailboat. The light hits his face, and his insouciance is palpable within the grain of this old picture. Elsewhere, a black-and-white photograph shows Russell timidly smirking as his boyfriend’s hand rests gently on his shoulder. The artist’s stare is terribly arresting.

You can sit on one of the three comfortable gray couches in the space, put on headphones, and take in the surroundings as Russell’s music plays (the artist’s 1980 just-after-disco classic “Is It All Over My Face” is among the offerings). Nearby, a songbook encased in Plexiglas is open to a page with a line that reads: “What does God know ‘bout divine I’ll twist and shout.”