MoMA Mixtape: The Monochrome Musings of Johanna Fateman
The Le Tigre founder and art critic removes the color but keeps all the soul.
Sep 28, 2023
I come to the Museum often, maybe every other month. Over the past decade or so, I usually find myself there to review a recently opened show. If I have time, I visit the collection galleries, too. But this trip was special, because MoMA had invited me to make a Mixtape—to wander around, courting synesthetic inspiration, pairing things with songs, setting art to music in my head. And I hadn’t visited for a while, not since the spring. (I took a break from art criticism, sort of, to rehearse and go on tour. My band, Le Tigre, got back together after nearly 20 years to perform last summer.) I was excited to stop in on old favorites and to check out what’s changed.
Johanna Fateman at MoMA. Pictured: Mark Rothko.Untitled. 1969–70
Television’s “Marquee Moon” + Mark Rothko’s Untitled
I wouldn’t normally choose something colorless by the color-field painter, but I don’t regret my black-and-white rule. I love this lushly dreary, faintly turbulent two-tone rectangle, with its suggestion of an inky horizon. A song comes immediately to mind: Television’s “Marquee Moon.” “I remember when the darkness doubled / I recall, lightning struck itself,” it begins. This song’s airy clarity—the spare punctuation and ornamentation of the guitar, the plaintive singing, and the fragile quality of the elements, the way they hang together—seems to evoke an appropriate air of melancholy and portent, an ambiance of myth, if not quite Mark Rothko’s sweeping sense of the tragic.
On the phone with John Giorno’s Dial-A-Poem
Drake’s “Hotline Bling” + John Giorno’s Dial-A-Poem
Next, still in the 1960, I stopped at John Giorno’s Dial-A-Poem installation. How could I resist the beckoning black rotary phones? I hung up on William Burroughs (twice!) before listening to Dianne DiPrima for a minute. This is rather literal-minded of me, but “Hotline Bling” just popped up in my algorithm the other day while I was washing the dishes, and I can picture Drake, in another life, brooding over the Beat poet. Perhaps DiPrima took off for Timothy Leary’s intentional community in California and never called the Canadian rapper/singer again.
The contemporary soundtrack for such moody glamor, dark nostalgia, and bleak white femininity is of course Lana Del Ray—“A&W,” perhaps.
Johanna Fateman is a writer, art critic, and musician. She writes about art often for 4Columns, Bookforum, and Artforum, where she is a contributing editor. Her band, Le Tigre, reunited after 17 years to tour in the summer of 2023.
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