Where were you when the Music Television Channel was first introduced in 1981?
I was seven years old and had a babysitter who, in her early twenties, was the
coolest person I had ever met. I would follow her around just in the hopes that
this perceived “coolness” would somehow rub off on me. It was through her that
I was exposed, for the first time, to the brand-new phenomenon of the music video.
Her family had just gotten cable and we would sit around and watch this small
American network running loops of film shorts that visually illustrated the
concepts and narratives of song by popular musical bands at the time.
What we didn’t realize at the time, was that visual and popular culture as
we knew it was changed forever.
Looking at Music 3.0., now at the Museum of Modern Art, New York through
June 6, 2011, is an in-depth look at this moment in time and its effect on our
cultural history. The third in a series of exhibitions exploring the influence of
music on contemporary art practices, Looking at Music 3.0, focuses on
New York in the 1980s and 1990s and the birth of the “remix culture.
” The exhibition features 70 works from a wide range of artists and
The exhibition begins with the German band Kraftwerk, positing that with tracks such
as Trans-Europe Express, 1977, they had a large influence on the decades of music
to come with their pioneering usage synthesizers and computer-speech software.
It then expands into a wide array of issues and movements that were occurring
during this time: the birth of hip-hop and its growing strength in voicing the
ongoing discrimination against the black community; activist movements seeking
to counteract the AIDS epidemic and the increasing drug usage that was threatening
New York; the introduction of art theory to new music as well as the rise of the digital
domain; and the growing voice of artists commenting on the complicated
relationship between commercial entities and its control of mass communication
and the shaping of modern culture.
A highlight of Looking at Music 3.0 is the in-depth look into the wave of Feminism
that was grounded in the riot grrrl capital, Portland Oregon, in the 1990s. On display
as well as audio tracks from the band Le Tigre. These recordings serve as examples
of the impromptu punk bands that were forming all over and the band’s usage of
humorous lyrics and electronic dance music to confront a myriad of social ills that
existed in New York.
Anyone interested in the history of music and visual culture will enjoy this exhibition.
But for those of us who remember where we were when the music video was first
introduced, you will walk out asking yourself, “What happened to the revolution?”