No Context: Zach Baron on Paper Rad and Cory Arcangel at MOMA


photo by Jake Price

No Context

By Zach Baron

MoMA curator Barbara London introduced Paper Rad featuring Cory Arcangel, “an evening of live performances, art, and music” presented in conjunction with the museum’s threadbare “Automatic Update” show, by thanking “Paper Rad, Cory, and all the other bands.” That London couldn’t be bothered to parse the Pittsburg via Providence collective’s “Summer Jam Paper Rad” lineup — Dr. Doo, Extreme Animals, and Slow Jams Band — was nothing out of the ordinary. These Pop Rally evenings assuage not just the artists’ assistants and up-market downtowners who gather for the reflected glamour of dancing within feet of a Rodin but the curators, for whom the events serve as a sort of antidote to thirty years of Henry Darger or Martin Ramirez-related guilt and recrimination.

Everyone has it both ways — Paper Rad and their pack of affiliated bands get to awe, and possibly subvert, a culture that spends most of the day looking down on them for being what they are, which is freaks, while also performing for, as Extreme Animals’ Jacob Ciocci had it, “the absolutely most people I’ve played for, in my life.” The curators get to relax for a few hours and let the youth take over, staking a claim over the entertainment as outsider art should the artists ever make anything worth considering as such, while secure in the knowledge they’re playing with house money: come 11pm, everyone’s going home, and the museum gets its lobby back.

Too cynical? Who could even tell? Media artist and Islanders hockey fan Cory Arcangel performed his “The Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Glockenspiel Addendum,” a piece originally “written for file-sharing networks.” Over various cuts from Born to Run, Arcangel — an Oberlin Conservatory vet — recorded, and then uploaded to the internet, an extra track of himself playing along on glock; later, the idea being, certain unwitting downloaders of “She’s the One” might end up instead with something featuring Cory Arcangel and a xylophone. As Arcangel said, live “it doesn’t really make any sense.” Without the prank, how could it? The artist was nevertheless game — he soaked up the cheers that came from a Springsteen DVD projected behind him, but also bulked up, or at least charmed up, Springsteen’s radio-weary songs. When his set was over, Cory threw two mallets into the crowd, upended the glockenspiel, and walked away grinning, his piece come to life, an actual crowd urging him on.

Like Arcangel, Paper Rad played down their art world currency — neon-flavored animations and found footage, collaged recombinations of pop icons and rappers moving in time to sped-up dance music — in favor of their Lightning Bolt-style, warehouse-party musician avatars. Dr. Doo, an alias for PR’s Ben Jones, drummed along to frantic synth tracks, accompanied by a futuristic cartoon wizard who spoke wistfully to a pupil of a golden era, a time full of music made by great bands like “Stone Temple Pilots, or STP, or Weiland, just to name a few.” The Slow Jams band went last, three people in a Wynn Greenwood-esque duet with an onscreen DVD-player. As they danced, the DVD logo explored nature; later, via writing on an ejected CD-R, the player broke up with the band and went its own separate way.

“This is our time!” was Extreme Animals’ opening salvo, and even after their sweaty, deranged set had ended, it was impossible to tell whether or not they meant it. The undercurrent of self-hate, the kind which requires the world’s foremost museum curators to listen to noise music louder than they’d like, and to smile when the inevitable drunken mosh pit breaks out in their place of business, cuts both ways. As Jacob Ciocci incited the crowd to storm the stage, basically to riot, throw drinks and crowd-surf — which it did — he could’ve been screaming “Spring Break!” to a passing car of Jersey frat brothers for all he had in common with the dressed up masses dancing to his band’s freak-scene, industrial town rave-ups. “A lot of times in my life, I’ve felt like a weirdo,” Ciocci said, closing out the set, “and tonight made me feel like it was OK.” Whether it was because he finally had company, or merely revenge — he didn’t say.

Last week, Zach Baron wrote about Yoko Ono at the Pitchfork Music Festival.