PRINT March 2017


Richard Kennedy

Richard Kennedy is an artist working in New York. In 2016 he presented the operas Comeuppance and Black Rage at Brooklyn’s Signal and the ballet BOTH at Artists Space in Manhattan. In February he curated the daylong festival “Index” at Knockdown Center in Queens and this month’s Sunday Session, “FROM.UNDER.ABOVE.,” at MoMA PS1, also in Queens. Kennedy is currently an artist in residence at POWRPLNT in Brooklyn.


    As I sit down to write this list, I get an urge to listen to Alice Coltrane. For a moment, I forget the cruel truths of the world. I bathe in the beauty of my blackness and listen closely to the conversational melody. I close my eyes and breathe with the music. You can hear Alice’s voice so clearly. It’s the voice of a generation that used sounds without words to communicate feelings. I feel the music in my ears and in my heart, and I understand the world a little more. Musicians have magical ways of making the deepest pain sound sweet enough to envy.

    *Cover of Alice Coltrane’s _Ptah, the El Daoud_* (Impulse!, 1970). Cover of Alice Coltrane’s Ptah, the El Daoud (Impulse!, 1970).

    I grew up in Middletown, Ohio, a place that Forbes named one of the fastest-dying local economies in America in 2008. I went back this past spring and was alarmed by the Trump signs that littered the landscape. I recognized the dire premonition. Yet I campaigned for Bernie Sanders, voted for Hillary Clinton, and refuse to fear President Trump. I see all the chaos and comfort of the world in Ringgold’s painting. It reminds me of Contessa Stuto’s AMERICA! HOME OF THE FREE, LAND OF THE DEAD!—a viral video posted on election night—in which the performance artist has a public meltdown. People say 2016 was the worst year ever for America. I remind them of 1492, 1776, 1967, and all the other terrible times that have come before.

    *Faith Ringgold, _American People Series #20: Die_, 1967*, oil on canvas, 6 × 12'. Faith Ringgold, American People Series #20: Die, 1967, oil on canvas, 6 × 12'.

    I resist the hype machine every chance I get, but sometimes you have to submit and believe it. Moonlight is an incredibly honest, authentic, and accurate portrayal of growing up gay in the inner city. The art direction is so rich, and Jenkins effortlessly captures the cinematic nature of life in Section 8. It should win all the Oscars! It is so important that marginalized people get to tell their own stories.

    *Barry Jenkins, _Moonlight_, 2016*, HD video, color, sound, 110 minutes. Chiron “Little” (Alex Hibbert). Barry Jenkins, Moonlight, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 110 minutes. Chiron “Little” (Alex Hibbert).

    I arrived in industrial Brooklyn around 4 AM. The text message instructed me to “find the guy in the black car and get booties . . . it’s really muddy.” Freezing and irritated, I paced up and down the block, knocking on all the wrong car windows. Moments too late, yet just in time, I found the guy, got the booties, and followed the pulse of the music into the dark. Suddenly, I was in a techno paradise full of sweating bodies jerking violently in what appeared to be an old office building. Suddenly, the only thing that mattered was dancing inside the resistance.

    *Unter rave, Bushwick, September 2015*. Photo: Luis Nieto Dickens. Unter rave, Bushwick, September 2015. Photo: Luis Nieto Dickens.

    I saw the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It when I was very young. I’ve wanted to be Tina Turner ever since—studying her moves, her voice, the way she works a stage. Each performance is a master class by the black rock goddess herself. “River Deep—Mountain High” is one of the first songs Tina recorded without Ike—booming brass and soaring strings replaced bass riffs and guitar wails as old gave way to new. I want to sing with a full orchestra again; it’s one of my favorite things to do.

    *Tina Turner, ca. 1971.* Photo: Everett Collection/Alamy. Tina Turner, ca. 1971. Photo: Everett Collection/Alamy.

    I grew up in the age of Aaliyah. My girlfriends and I would record music videos from BET to learn the dances. I remember one friend adopting a swoop bang to be more like Baby Girl. Photographer Eric Johnson captured iconic images of her that tell the story of late-’90s hip-hop and R&B in such an unplugged, interesting way. These long-unknown pictures—which were released in 2014 in honor of what would have been Aaliyah’s thirty-fifth birthday—are so real; her gaze asks, “Are you that somebody?”

    *Outtake from Aaliyah’s editorial photo shoot for _Entertainment Weekly_, July 2001.* Photo: Eric Johnson. Outtake from Aaliyah’s editorial photo shoot for Entertainment Weekly, July 2001. Photo: Eric Johnson.

    I first saw Yves Tumor perform at my party “The Power,” at a Puerto Rican biker bar in Bushwick. Tumor is one of my favorite living performers and a total force both on- and offstage. I had associated him with an aggressive, pulsing sound, so I was stunned when I heard the 2016 album Serpent Music. This is one of those songs that I will listen to on that perfect Malibu beach day for the rest of my life. The guitar riff transports us back to an era of acid trips and political turmoil, reminding us that music is always right on time.

    *Promotional image for Yves Tumor’s _Serpent Music_, 2016.* Photo: Daniel Sannwald. Promotional image for Yves Tumor’s Serpent Music, 2016. Photo: Daniel Sannwald.

    Marshall’s recent retrospective “Mastry” at the Met Breuer in New York was stunning. This particular work spoke to me on many levels. The artist’s studio is both a sacred and public space. The figures are all engaged and move fluidly through the creative atmosphere. In the same way, I am most inspired by friends and family. It is empowering to see yourself represented on sharp white walls. As I spent time with the work, I noticed my surroundings, the wide eyes of children on field trips. I see myself in them and them in me, and I see us all in “Mastry.”


    I am fascinated by Picabia—most of all by his roles as prankster and playboy. Le Clown combines the two with its green visage, blonde pixie cut, and robust, collagen-injected red lips. Picabia’s signature grimace seems to foretell the swollen anomie of our current celebrity culture of “liking” and “sharing,” of sex and impotence, humor and sadness.

    *Francis Picabia, _Le Clown Fratellini_, 1937–38*, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 × 28 3/4". © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Francis Picabia, Le Clown Fratellini, 1937–38, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 × 28 3/4". © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

    When I found out that Diamanda Galás would be an artist-in-residence this past summer at Bard College, where I’m working on my MFA, I was thrilled and nervous. At the start of our studio visit, I asked if I could sing to break the ice. Later I shared “Hear My Prayer,” and within minutes, Galás was on the floor, melted by all that is Callie Day. Minutes turned into hours. We shared our views on God, and though we may differ, we agreed that this song is a manifestation of the sacred. I listen to it a few times each month to remind myself that divinity is real and that my art springs forth from it. As Day’s voice swells and soothes, I am able to find peace amid cosmic unrest.

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