New York

Christian Marclay

Tom Cugliani Gallery

Nearly anyone can play “Name That Tune.” Some people need to hear a few notes more than others do, but essentially we can all recognize well-known pop music melodies with but a few notes pecked out on the piano or distilled in some cheesy Muzak rendition. Christian Marclay, a noted experimental musician of New York‘s downtown art-performance circles who has become considerably more active as a visual artist in the past couple of years, knows well how that particular dynamic between memory and the senses works. Marclay‘s music over the years, in both solo and collaborative efforts, has involved playing with turntables. The music is not “scratch” in the ordinary rap and d.j. sense. Marclay plays bits of records, often scratched or otherwise distorted, weaving the recognizable and unfamiliar musical threads in and out of each other; they abruptly appear and disappear in sequences ranging from the meditative to the cryptic.

He has translated this work into visual matter with phenomenal success. While Marclay‘s sculptural assemblages represent a temporary shift in medium, he is essentially still dealing with music. Using old records, album covers, gramophone horns, and speaker cabinets as his materials, Marclay explores our visual relation to music. Just as a few notes can make us immediately remember and experience an entire song with all our memories attached to it, so can a title, or a record cover, such as the one for The Sound of Music, which Marclay uses six of to construct his simple cubic joke——Music Box, 1988. In other works, Marclay channels the expressive potential of the banal via memory and free association. In the same manner that the pops, hisses, and crackling sounds of Marclay‘s well-worn vinyl evoke time as a deteriorating, melancholic shadow of memory, the beaten-up records and their covers (with words deliberately excised to comically alter and subvert the original), or the gramophone relic of a golden age turned into a candle, act as potent metaphors for nostalgia and decay.

But sentimentality is hardly Marclay‘s theme song. Much of the work has a whimsical tone, using puns and visual associations with a kind of preciousness that brings to mind certain Fluxus objects, as well as Dadaist artifacts. Another aspect of Marclay‘s art and music that keeps it vital is its aggressive sense of simultaneity. This quality partly reflects the contemporary sensory overload of information; it also has a great deal to do with living in New York. This sonic hemorrhaging is reflected in Marclay‘s musical collages as well as in visual pieces such as Mosaic, 1987, made of broken record shards. Marclay‘s music and art objects work in an exciting way that most quotation and pastiche works rarely do.

Carlo McCormick