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The Bright and Hollow Sky

  • Exhibition

  • On view June 28, 2019
  • MASS MoCA

Music is so intimate – touching our lives through lyrics, melodies, and live performance – that we sometimes feel we know our favorite performers personally. The Bright and Hollow Sky, a title borrowed from Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” is the first in a multi-year series of rotating exhibitions drawn from a single private collection of rock and roll photography. This exhibition looks beneath the stage persona of some of the genre’s greatest practitioners, presenting photographs that reveal the humanity behind the larger-than-life figures in the spotlight.

A group of photographs expanding the idea of rock and roll begins the exhibition: French singer Édith Piaf; journalist Lester Bangs; artists Nan Goldin, Alighiero Boetti, and Giovanni Anselmo; cartoonist Robert Crumb; writer William S. Burroughs; and gender-defying performer Divine. Connecting these personalities to musicians such as James Brown, Freddie Mercury, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain is the renegade, often contrarian, ethos that defines rock and roll.

The next series of groupings presents achingly personal images of: 1960s and ‘70s psychedelic musicians in England and the U.S.; R&B and soul singers across multiple generations; tender portraits of couples (both friends and lovers); singer/songwriters; The Velvet Underground and their circle; and the icons of 1980s and ‘90s punk, new wave, and grunge.

The artists represented here have lived lives full of both joy and pain, yet one needn’t romanticize the profession to note that it can take a toll. Some musicians pictured here successfully combatted the ravages of drug and alcohol addiction, while others succumbed; some have been sexually abusive, others abused; while another group fell victim to tragic accidents and suicide. These images are further connected by the unflinching eye of great photographers who capture the complicated inner lives of their subjects; a loving embrace, bandmates goofing off, moments of introspection, and off-stage elation.

In the end, the portraits pull back the curtain, allowing us to see these icons in the light of the everyday.

Photo courtesy of anonymous donor

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