Currently on view in the exhibition Contemporary Outlook: Seeing Songs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is the video installation, Queen (A Portrait of Madonna), by Berlin-based artist Candice Breitz. The piece assaults the museum-wanderer’s ears far before it is seen, a jumble of incomprehensible collective voices shouting through the MFA’s white walls. Only when one rounds the bend into the gallery where Queen is on display, does the inscrutable chanting of strangers become recognizable: it’s Madonna’s “Holiday,” and it’s being sung a cappella by thirty wild, Italian strangers.
Breitz’s 2005 video installation runs over 73 minutes in length, performing the entirety of Madonna’s “Immaculate Collection” album (a greatest hits of her songs from 1982-1990). To create the piece, Breitz solicited devoted Madonna fans in Italy by newspaper and online, to come to the Jungle Sound Studio in Milan to sing all 73 minutes of the album. Whether they spoke English or not, the thirty applicants that Breitz chose for the piece knew every lyric to every song and were willing to be filmed and recorded performing them.
The resultant Queen–which is part of a larger body of portraits of other pop icons, including different musicians such as Michael Jackson and Bob Marley, manifested through similar recordings–is a visual and audio symphony of the human experience. Though the different personalities express themselves uniquely in the video, and of course, the Madonna tracks are nostalgia-inducing for many of us, the music being sung and danced to becomes secondary to the overall, mesmerizing collection of momentary joy and rawness of character that we see and hear.
If you can’t make it to Boston for the show, which runs through February 21, 2010, to see this stunning video live, you can view part of it on the artist’s website, or see her piece Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon) at the SFMoMA beginning this week. There is also a survey of her work currently on view at The Power Plant in Toronto and she has an upcoming show at Yvon Lampert in New York in February.
Candice Breitz was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and lives and works in Berlin, Germany, where she is a Professor of Fine Art at the Braunschweig University of Art. She holds degrees in art and art history from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, the University of Chicago and Columbia University. Her work is included in several prominent public collections, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany; and The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA. Her work has been included in solo exhibitions internationally, including at White Cube in London, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Palais de Tokyo in Paris.