Ari Benjamin Meyers, Serious Immobilities, 2013, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Ari Benjamin Meyers, Serious Immobilities, 2013, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Ari Benjamin Meyers

Ari Benjamin Meyers, Serious Immobilities, 2013, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Ari Benjamin Meyers Esther Schipper Every Saturday over the course of Ari Benjamin Meyers’s “Black Thoughts,” the exhibition fulfilled the promise of a spectacular viewer experience, which has become known as a characteristic of a certain vein of 1990s art––and typical for several artists in Esther Schipper’s program: Different combinations of five commissioned musicians would appear to interpret a rather minimal musical composition by turns restrained but insistent or full-on and dynamic. Any other day of the week, though, the gallery was vacant of the performers and their sound; the exhibition would have been similar in appearance to various clean, total, reduced exhibitions by other gallery artists––for instance, Karin Sander’s “h = 400 cm” from 2012 or Ceal Floyer’s untitled exhibition from 2011––thus suggesting that the one aesthetic might be a natural foil for the other.

The contrast between a live experience and an austere, evacuated one evokes a valid concern for some artists: what to do with the objects of performance (in this case, an electric guitar, an electric bass, amplifiers, music stands, and sheet music) when no appointed bodies are around to use them. For his part, Meyers had recourse to the ready solution of preserving the objects where the performers left them––the instruments on their stands, the sheet music on theirs or piled on the ground––as representative of the potential that these mute things maintain either to be played or to be viewed as art objects. It’s a logical choice, but the gesture seems all too familiar.

Elsewhere, Meyers engaged another increasingly common element for evoking a performative dimension in contemporary art: the score. This was Vexations 2 (all works 2013), which eventually consisted of 840 sheets of handwritten musical notation reaching across the walls of the main gallery space nearly from top to bottom and corner to corner. With such a large quantity dealt with so methodically, however, Meyers’s score read more as a visual texture than as an invitation to perform the composition. The same could be said for the small table set with blank sheet music and graphite pencil shavings, where Meyers sometimes sat to finish writing out notation, as well as for the grand piano standing in the middle of the room that had apparently been tuned to play only one note. Of course, the rigid appearance of Vexations 2 is not necessarily a surprise, given that it is an adaptation of Erik Satie’s 1893 composition Vexations, which requires the performer to play 840 repetitions of a single one-page piece.

Trained as a composer and conductor—he has led two productions of Philip Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach and been a member of the German band Einstürzende Neubauten—Meyers has increasingly flirted with the art context over the past several years, having worked together early on with Tino Sehgal and later with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Anri Sala, and Saâdane Afif. Also part of the exhibition was a series of semi-absurd interventions in the pages of leading art magazines, posing the question “Do you have black thoughts?” or advertising a “specialist in funeral marches.” Still, nothing quite so macabre or specific came to mind during the absolutely captivating hours when the musicians interpreted Meyers’s composition, the show’s standout. Sometimes the bass guitarist repeated one note on end for long minutes. Other sequences delivered a beautifully evolving rhythm of equally repetitive chords and breathy singing from the three vocalists, who intermittently lay down next to viewers during the performance, as if lost in the––thankfully––slowly passing moment.

––John Beeson