Pull up a record and listen at SAM exhibit
Chicago artist/collector/activist Theaster Gates has installed his homage to the now-closed Dr. Wax music store in Chicago, and visitors get a chance to share in the pleasures of the saved records. At SAM through July 1, 2012.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Theaster Gates: The Listening Room'10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.- 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays through July 1, 2012, Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave., Seattle; $9-$15 (206-654-3100 or www.seattleartmuseum.org).
'The Listening Room'• A DJ and an archivist will be at work in the installation the first Thursday and Sunday of every month. Chicago-based DJ Ayana Contreras is spinning records 7-10 p.m. Friday (Teen Night Out), and Sunday throughout the day.
• Olson Kundig Architects have created "Record Store," an installation in Pioneer Square that allows visitors to listen to and interact with the more than 6,000 vinyl records on loan from Seattle collectors. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, Tuesday-Jan. 31, 406 Occidental Ave., Seattle.
If you're older than 35 or so, chances are you have some vivid, almost tangible memories of records. You probably remember holding the soft cardboard of a well-loved album cover, pressing the slightly thick, rounded edges as you put a vinyl disc on a turntable, hanging out at a record store and feeling the soft thud, thud, thud as you flipped through albums in a bin. Records were once an integral part of growing up, diving into music's past and getting connected with contemporary-music scenes.
Just a few years ago, when activist/artist Theaster Gates learned that the Dr. Wax Record Store in Chicago — an esteemed institution that showcased music by black recording artists — was going out of business, he recognized that these vinyl objects were part of people's lives and part of the local community.
With a background in art, music, religious studies, urban planning (and a set of diverse professional experiences, including a stint at the Union Gospel Mission here in Seattle), Gates, presumably, could have conjured up any number of artistic and socially conscious projects as a response.
So, what did he do? He bought the entire remaining inventory of the store, turning the leftover stock into a true record collection. This collection, comprised mainly of rock, hip-hop and blues albums, is now on display for your viewing and listening pleasure in Gates' new installation, "The Listening Room," which opens today at Seattle Art Museum.
Earlier this week, when SAM curator Sandra Jackson-Dumont talked with me in the gallery, the show was in the initial stages of installation. The records were waiting patiently in boxes and various other components — including some rustic Gothic stools made by Gates out of found wood and the original sidewalk sign for Dr. Wax's store — were scattered about.
According to Jackson-Dumont, the finished installation will have the look and feel of a speak-easy, church, storefront and museum gallery all rolled into one. The centerpiece of the show is the "DJ Booth," made by Gates out of reclaimed materials, including, significantly, a low wooden wall that separates the chancel from the congregation in a church.
On one side, Gates has included an ordinary school-chair desk and, on the other, an imposing pulpit chair. From these chairs, respectively, an archivist and DJ will perform their duties at select times during the run of the show.
On the first Thursdays and Sundays of the month, different DJs will come to spin records for museum visitors who can share in the variety and vitality of the music as a living art form. And, in order to showcase these records as meaningful, historical objects, and to play up the idea of a collection (which is now temporarily residing within a museum setting), an archivist will catalog the albums (creating records of records), along with the playlists spun by the DJs.
"The Listening Room" is a spinoff from a larger, ongoing set of activities that Gates has dubbed the "Dorchester Projects." For several years, Gates has been purchasing rundown properties in the Woodlawn/Grand Crossing neighborhood of Chicago. Not only is he interested in refurbishing and revitalizing the buildings and the surrounding community, Gates has begun to "collect collections," according to curator Jackson-Dumont.
Before traveling to Seattle, the Dr. Wax records were stored in one of the Dorchester Projects spaces, along with an almost discarded collection of glass lantern slides and the stock of a defunct bookstore. Chicago-area DJ and music curator Ayana Contreras has written that Gates uses reclaimed materials strategically, "turning his properties into cultural community hubs, featuring curators and programming that reflect the collections and the community."
About the "Listening Room," Gates has said, "I want people to come to the space and find parts of themselves lost." We can recover parts of ourselves, our pasts, our communities' histories through encounters with reclaimed objects or remembered musical experiences. Or, we can simply, profoundly, find ourselves lost in pleasure of listening.
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