Alan Suicide Vega — Holy Shit
Alan Suicide Vega
Past: October 18 → November 24, 2012
It is difficult, some would say impossible for rock music lovers, to look at the works of Alan Bermowitz, aka Alan Vega, without associating them with the sound experience that such a name evokes.
It is hard to forget the fantastic performance of the singer-songwriter, mesmerizing the Palace hall with his magical voice on the 5th February 1981. That night, a head-banded Vega appeared on stage with a lanky dancer and a tape recorder for company and faced the rockabilly audience who had come to hear the latest buzzing band: the Stray Cats. Dodging the spits and cans, Vega uncoiled his songs, each one more bewitching than the next. Radical melodies consisting of minimal, repetitive beats, songs full of grunts, whispers and screams. An unknown, imperfect, morbid and yet extraordinarily alive form of music, which he had performed for a few years as part of the duo Suicide and more recently as a solo act, with an urgency, akin to the chilled psychedelia of another iconic band: the velvet underground.
Rumor had it that Alan Vega hailed from New York and that well before becoming a singer, he practiced visual art and poetry, as Patti Smith and Richard Hell did. Very few images were in circulation. There was talk of sculptures involving electric lights and of exhibitions in Soho, notably in one of New York’s first alternative venues run by artists: “Project of Living Artists”, a space co-founded by Vega. Between 1972 and 1975, Vega exhibited at the OK Harris gallery, managed by Ivan C.Karp, former co-director of Leo Castelli. His works were also shown at PS1 in New York (1982), Barbara Gladstone Gallery (1983-1985) as well as Jeffrey Deitch’s (2002), and again in PS1 in 2006.
In 2009, thanks to the perseverance of Thierry Raspail and Mathieu Copeland, Vega eventually had his first French retrospective at the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Lyon. Several sets of works were shown; wall sculptures, hanging from the ceiling or displayed on the ground, drawings and photographs: all assembled for the occasion on the vast stage of the museum. The atmosphere was such that the visitor felt like he had broken into a darkroom under a safelight. The complex colored light sculptures had the strange property, depending on the angle at which one was standing to look at them, of being both expressionist and frozen, with an indefinable and subterranean power.
In the manner of other singular artists such as Paul Thek, Alan Vega opposed the serialism fashionable in the late 60s, namely minimalism and pop art. Vega devised his works with a radicalism akin to that of his teacher, Ad Reinhardt, and the same elements as those used in protopunk music: minimal chords, simplified arrangements, speed, energy and repetitiveness. This combination produced an immediate shock, a bright and resonant landscape that looked DIY cheap, and a touch funeral.
Composed of differently shaped bulbs, neon lights, cables, adapters, multicolored light strings, to which were added images, TV sets, and all sorts of objects, the works were like profane reliquaries, attractive yet disturbing. Many of them featured the shape of a cross, where images of the Christ and Muhammad Ali, or a zombie and Marilyn Monroe, coexisted. These magical and ritual works were made of contemporary urban rubbish, everyday consumer objects of iconic fascination to Vega, who managed to preserve their own primitive energies.
For since the end of the 60s, the concept of an exhibition remains to Vega an open task, in which displaying the pieces is an act of creative inspiration. These entanglements are often so complex that they are impossible to reproduce. Taking the live performing arts and concerts that he continues to perform as an example, the works of Alan Vega submit to the atmosphere of the places in which they are shown. They are arranged differently according the premises: cables, lamps, photos and various other materials form the necessary link between time and space.
The exhibition at Galerie Laurent Godin is an opportunity to discover or even rediscover a timeless body of works.
Alain Berland is an independent critic.
In 2012, he was the curator of “Bouquet Final”, an exhibition of Michel Blazy and of “Les Aveugles” by Bruno Perrament at the Collège des Bernadins. He is also co-curator of the Bienniale du Havre 2012 entitled “Les bruits du dehors”.