Kim Gordon started playing music as an indirect result of pursuing art. Now, her music has led – also indirectly – to a milestone in her art career: the Sonic Youth co-founder’s first solo North American museum exhibit.
“Kim Gordon: Lo-Fi Glamour” opens today at The Andy Warhol Museum. The exhibit commands the museum’s second floor with paintings, drawing and sculpture spanning the past decade of Gordon’s 30-year art practice.
Gordon, 66, grew up mostly in Los Angeles, and graduated from the L.A.-based Otis College of Art and Design. In 1980, she moved to New York City to pursue art. She ended up becoming part of the city’s burgeoning and intertwined underground music and art scenes.
Her first solo exhibition, “Design Office,” was in 1981, at New York’s White Columns. And most famously, she co-founded Sonic Youth with Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. Gordon played bass and sang for the pioneering band that combined noisy art rock and punk, and Gordon became a post-punk feminist icon.
Sonic Youth disbanded in 2011. But among her many ventures – writing, filmmaking and founding a clothing line, for instance – Gordon continued making visual art, and doing so successfully at that: She’s represented by New York’s Gallery 303 and has had solo exhibits internationally.
When the Warhol first approached Gordon, however, it was with music in mind. Ben Harrison, the museum’s curator of performing arts, contacted her about composing a live score for one of Warhol’s films; they eventually settled on “Kiss” (1963), an hour-long silent, experimental piece that consists of extended close-ups of 14 couples kissing. The project expanded after Harrison and Jessica Beck, the Warhol’s Milton Fine curator of art, delved into Gordon’s catalogue of visual art.
“Just becoming aware of how long she’s been making the work, how much work there was … it felt like we could easily fill a second-floor space,” says Harrison.
The exhibit’s title references the “lo-fi” music scene Gordon was part of in ’80s New York. It also nods to her affinity (shared with Warhol) for materials not typically found in high-art settings, whether Warhol’s screen prints or Gordon’s use of glitter and spray paint.
Beck says she was impressed both by Gordon’s writings on art – including the essay collection “Is It My Body?” – and by the variety of work Gordon had made.
Gordon’ Noise Name Paintings, for instance, offer the names of obscure bands (among them Dude War, Hair Police and Secret Abuse) in dripping, hand-brushed acrylic. Another series similarly renders hashtags, in gold paint rather than black: “#MaleWhiteCorporateOppression,” “#PussyGrabsBack,” “Youdon’townme.” (Gordon says the series interrogates the efficacy of hashtags as protest: “It’s like hashtags legitimize anything,” she says.)
Gordon’s interest in how the lines between public and private space can blur is reflected in her ironically titled “Airbnb Series”: the vibrant figurative drawings of female nudes are meant to both celebrate the female form and explore how it can be exploited.
“It’s just kind of a way of reclaiming it, but at the same time acknowledging that the context where it’s going could be just as decoration or something on a wall,” she said during a press event at the museum yesterday.
The 2D nudes adorn the walls of a room also occupied by a couple of pedestal-like catering tables, only instead of hors d’oeuvres, they are wittily topped by three small ceramic sculptures of women masturbating in various poses.
That score for Warhol’s “Kiss” is part of the exhibit, too, playing on a continous loop along with a double-screen projection of the film itself. Gordon and three collaborators partially improvised it in a recording session at the museum last summer. Gordon sang and played guitar along with guitarists Bill Nace (her partner in noise-rock duo Body/Head) and Steven Gunn and drummer John Truscinski.
The double album “Sound for Andy Warhol’s Kiss” (the first to be produced by the Warhol) is on sale at the museum’s gift shop, and the group was scheduled to perform it live there Thursday night.
Gordon says she likes the intimacy of the film, but also that it captures a range of people kissing: same-sex couples, for instance, and couples where one partner is white and the other black.
The exhibit is also a coming-full-circle for Gordon in another way: She says that reading “Popism,” Warhol’s 1980 memoir of life at his studio The Factory, was a formative experience.
“I think I was already interested in Warhol because of the films, just his take on pop culture, and he was just such a character,” she said. “The Factory was mysterious. I liked the interdisciplinary aspect to what he was doing. But It still felt very mythic. But when I read ‘Popism,’ it just made it more accessible to me. Like, ‘This is sort of human, in a way.’”
Another trace of Warhol himself in the exhibit is Gordon's pair of knee-high lace-up canvas boots that Warhol autographed when she met him in 1978, in California.
"Kim Gordon: Lo-Fi Glamour" runs through Sept. 1. Related programming includes tonight’s The Artist Up Close event, a talk between Gordon and her friend Rachel Kushner, the acclaimed novelist (“The Flamethrowers”). On June 14, there's a screening of a Gordon-selected film: “Sir Drone,” a low-budget 1989 feature by Raymond Pettibon about kids trying to form a punk band in Los Angeles.