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October 05, 2006 - Image 17

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-10-05

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th e b -sid e l Thursday, October 5, 2006 - The Michigan Daily - 5B


Continued from page 1B
Attractive D.I.A. exhibit
not without failures

tribute and a letdown.
Neatly divided into six
rooms following a rough chro-
nology, the exhibit begins
appropriately enough with the
Mississippi Delta. Quotes from
Leibovitz hover above each
room, and the first - for the
opening room titled "Ameri-
can Roots Music and the Folk
Tradition" - states simply: "It
seemed like a good idea to start
at the Mississippi Delta, since
that's where the music that
meant so much to me started."
One can't place enough signifi-
cance on the blues tradition as
the basis for American musical
expression, and Leibovitz fully
appreciates that fact.
Without diminishing their
stature, Leibovitz's portraits
of such legends as B.B. King,
Pete Seeger (recently honored
in Bruce Springsteen's We
Shall Overcome: The Seeger
Sessions), Othar Turner and
Eddie Cotton, Jr. (among sev-
eral others) are elegiac in their
simplicity. It's almost impos-
sible for a justly accomplished
photographer to capture such
iconic figures without letting
the culture, influence and lega-
cy of the blues take center stage
- and Leibovitz certainly suc-
ceeds at this.
In an exhibit full of portraits,
it's ironic that perhaps the best
image contains not a soul:
"Highway 61." As legend has
it, somewhere near the inter-
section of highways 61 and 49,
Robert Johnson - a legend in
need of no portrait to legitimize
his legacy - sold his soul to
the devil in return for his gui-
tar chops. Even though most of
Leibovitz's large-scale images
appear and trivial, "High-
way 61" and its introspective
silence demands attention. The
minimal composition of the
highway diminishing into the
horizon is amply weighted by
the surrounding portraits. This FROM TOP: Emmylo
is where it all began, where the
world's rawest form expression, Immediately to
the blues, was birthed. Here are image of the New
her children. Band, a contem
Leibovitz's pared down Orleans group n
approach flows well into the hip hop, gospel so
next section, "Country and traditional New O
Western Music." With the In one deft juxta
exception of an enormously products of c
kitschy, Rolling Stone-esque expression are r
portrait of Dolly Parton, the foundation of the
segment works well as a coun- sudden, we have
terpoint to the largely black One very big Nor
makeup of the first section. Regardless of
Willie Nelson's portrait, one Feels Like Hom
of the exhibit's press photos, is through a tough
an incredible display of artistic shouldn't be an'
virtuosity. And with a touch- an image of a reun
ing image of Johnny Cash in label musicians 1
his late years with his daughter Booker T. Jone
and grandchildren, "Country Hayes or a portrai
and Western Music" holds fast Not only is she in
to the exhibit's framework: the ity, but also her p
development of "American" largest in the sect
music, the role of its key play- tion of authenticit
ers and its future. the room, and com
The third section, "An up in the follow
'American Tapestry': Jazz, "Contemporary M
Gospel, Rhythm and Blues and Search for Authen
Soul," is without a doubt the In one room, w
cream of the exhibit. Granted, musicians. In th
I came to this exhibit with a white. Quite sim
barebones understanding of of legitimacy is la
jazz and its context in Ameri- to judge. And yet
can history, and so regardless informational pla
of the adjoining plaques, the mention race at al
images of such heroes as Max this problematic i
Roach, Etta James and Booker sion of the exhibii
T. Jones struck a deep, per- complication com

sonal chord. These guys were art for art's sake,
the next vanguard. After Rob- exhibit's context?
ert Johnson, Leadbelly, Son Duane Eddy a
House and Charley Patton are duly included,
(and, oh Lord, so many others), es of Bruce Sprin
these were the musicians who nie Raitt and Ton
took "American" music to the John Frusciante?
next level. portrait is brillian
Leibovitz's image of the ing take on a man
Mount Moriah Missionary past. But should
Baptist Church Choir - a New With Tom Waits?
Orleans church famous for both the exhibit break
the starting point of Mahalia of a sudden,, inst
Jackson and the fact that it is music as a cultu
still standing after Hurricane have a scattersho
Katrina - is breathtaking. popular musicians
The women are suffused with "Contemporary
grainy light, the light of faith, 1980: Hip Hop
and regardless of the easy ste- tive Music" is t
reotypes of black church cul- section, and the
ture, the photograph easily lanche toward me
carries its own weight. beyond continues..


u Harris, B.B. King and Ryan Adams.

its left is an
Birth Brass
porary New
nixing funk,
ul, blues and
rleans music.
position, the
ooted in the
past. All of a
Norah Jones.
ah Jones.
the fact that
e helped me
breakup, she
ywhere near
nions of Stax
that includes
s and Isaac
t of Dr. John.
their proxim-
ortrait is the
tion. A ques-
ty hangs over
pletely blows
ing section,
Music and the
ve have black
e next, only
ply, the issue
id bare for all
the section's
que does not
I. Not only is
n the progres-
t, but another
aes into play:
or art for the
nd Les Paul
, as are imag-
gsteen, Bon-
m Waits. But
Granted, his
t - a nurtur-
with a heavy
he be here?
This is where
:s down. All
ead of using
ral lens, we
t selection of
Music after
and Alterna-
he following
exhibit's ava-
ediocrity and
Shots of The

Roots, Missy Elliott and Mary
J. Blige look like Rolling Stone
cutouts - hell, maybe they are
- and do nothing to empha-
size the cultural significance
of hip hop. The Roots are setup
against a forced Philidelphia
backdrop, and we're supposed
to take away the same meaning
as a close up Max Roach? The
cultural significance is fall-
ing through our fingers. And it
doesn't stop.
"Musicians in Detroit" caps
off the exhibit with an extreme-
ly disappointing banality. Why
is Aretha Franklin confined to
the corner? Not to short-shift
The White Stripes, but why the
hell do they take center stage?
The exhibit's momentum from
the first half falls to rock bot-
tom with the portrait of Jack
and Meg White dressed up as
circus performers. In the rest
of the exhibit, not one single
image is so blatantly staged.
Leibovitz herself is quoted: "It
seemed to me that a concert
was the least interesting place
to photograph a musician ... I
liked rehearsals, backrooms,
hotel rooms ... any place by the
stage." Unfortunately, that phi-
losophy, which worked so well
for part of the exhibit, com-
pletely fails in the latter half,
and the show dwindles into a
parade of eye candy.
Leibovitz employs the full
weight of her craft through-
out the exhibit - each photo,
regardless of context, is master-
fully executed. But the context
is what allows individual pho-
tos to ascend their individual
frames (e.g. "Highway 61"). But
the viewer, after presented with
an enormous wealth of culture
in the first few sections, is com-
pletely let down by the end.
Perhaps Leibovitz would
have organized it otherwise.
Perhaps not. Perhaps it's ask-
ing too much of one artist to
portray American culture in
the context of contemporary
music. But both the artist and
the curator could have made a
better effort.



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