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Open Plan: Cecil Taylor

Apr 15–Apr 24, 2016

Cecil Taylor in rehearsal at the Whitney Museum, November 2015

Cecil Taylor in rehearsal at the Whitney Museum, November 2015

From February 26 through May 14, 2016, the Whitney Museum of American Art will present Open Plan, an experimental five-part exhibition using the Museum’s dramatic fifth-floor as a single open gallery, unobstructed by interior walls. The largest column-free museum exhibition space in New York, the Neil Bluhm Family Galleries measure 18,200 square feet and feature windows with striking views east into the city and west to the Hudson River, making for an expansive and inspiring canvas.

Pianist Cecil Taylor (b. 1929) is one of America's most innovative and uncompromising living musicians. His pioneering work in free jazz, which draws on myriad different musical styles conveyed through radical improvisation, will be featured in the fifth-floor gallery, where he will perform on occasion, along with homage performances by friends and fellow artists. This exhibition celebrates the artist’s extraordinary life and work in a retrospective environment that will include documentation of Taylor’s career through archival videos, audio, notational scores, photographs, poetry, and other ephemera, accompanied by a series of live performances featuring over twenty of Taylor’s musical collaborators, as well as dancers, playwrights, poets, filmmakers and writers who have been deeply involved in his work (see complete schedule of events below). 

Participants include Hilton Als, Cheryl Banks-Smith, Clark Coolidge, Andrew Cyrille, Steve Dalachinsky, Thulani Davis, Chris Funkhouser, Henry Grimes, Tristan Honsinger, Nathaniel Mackey, Dianne McIntyre, Jemeel Moondoc/Ensemble Muntu, Tracie Morris, Fred Moten, William Parker, Enrico Rava, A.B. Spellman, Anne Waldman, Heather Watts, and others. Throughout the galleries, listening stations will provide the chance to hear Taylor’s albums. Screenings of important films documenting Taylor’s life and performances will also be presented, including the world premiere of a new feature length performance film, The Silent Eye, that was shot in Taylor’s home over three days in January 2016.


Open Plan: Cecil Taylor is organized by curator and curator of performance Jay Sanders and Lawrence Kumpf, artistic director, Blank Forms, with senior curatorial assistant Greta Hartenstein, and Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow Lauren Rosati.

Major support for Open Plan is provided by the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation and the National Committee of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Significant support is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston and Donald R. Mullen, Jr.

Generous support is provided by Diane and Adam E. Max with additional support from Alexander S. C. Rower, Joseph Rosenwald Varet and Esther Kim Varet, and ISSUE Project Room.

Major funding for the Whitney's Performance Program is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with generous support also provided by the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Performance Committee of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Bösendorfer 280SP concert grand piano is provided in-kind by Yamaha Artist Services, New York.

The curators would like to thank the following individuals for their invaluable guidance, support, and advice:

Nicola Adriani, Yuji Agematsu, Peggy Ahwesh, Laura Aknin, Mark Amitin, Michael Anthony/Studio Café, Larry Appelbaum, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Robin Bell-Stevens, Charles Bernstein, Jennifer Bertani, Robert Bielecki, Francois Bonnet, Karen Borca, Emanuel Campbell, Kayla Coleman, Nena Couch, Pat Cruz, Lisa Darms, Diane Jenkins, Diedrich Diedrichsen, Jennifer Eberhardt, Amir ElSaffar, Andrea Felder, David First, Jeffrey Fraenkel, Phil Freeman, Lee Friedlander, Josh Friedman, Jost Gebers, John Gennari, Alan Green, Sasha Greene, Zev Greenfield, Margaret Davis Grimes, Mario Guidi, Tali (Chiyong) Han, Morgan Harris, Bill Imperial, Rin Ishihara, Bennett Jackson, Olivier Kaeppelin, Emily King, Cem Kurosman/Blue Note, Andrew Lampert, Angela Lawrence, Jess Lee, Steven Leiber Trust, Chantal Darcy Lette, Eyal Levi, Jeremy Liebman, Maira Liriano, John Litweiler, Davide Lorenzon, Howard Mandel, Ron Mann, Makia Matsumara/Yamaha Artistic Services, Tyler Maxim, Tommy McCutchon, The Estate of Fred W. McDarrah, Joshua McKeon, Sarah Michelson, Martin Milgrim, Jason Moran, Meredith Mowder, Jill Newman, David G. Null, Jim O’Rourke, Veryl Oakland, Frazer Pennebaker, Sierra Pettengill, Georgiana Pickett, Benjamin Piekut, Melissa Ragona, Ozzie Rodriguez, Vernon Scott, Bill Seery, Fred Seibert, Cynthia Sesso, Alan Silva, Dominique Singer, Kathy Sloane, Libby Smigel, Kaegan Sparks, Charles Steiner, Tom Surgal, Elizabeth Surles, Ben Taylor, Sharon Vogel, Matthew Walker, Monroe Warshaw, Adam Wilner, Damian Woetzel, Matt Wolf, Billy Woodberry, Tim Wyskida, Mary Yearwood, Ben Young, and all the artists and participants.

About the Artist

Cecil Taylor (b. 1929) is a towering, sometimes divisive figure within twentieth-century music. In the early 1960s, with fellow maverick artists Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and others, he revolutionized jazz by extending bebop into a radical terrain dubbed the "New Thing" or "free jazz"—the latter a term with political as well as aesthetic connotations given the social changes underway at the time in America. For Taylor, freedom meant a deep synthesis of the modern composers such as Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky that he encountered during his studies at the New England Conservatory of Music with the nuanced and original piano innovations of Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Bud Powell, and Duke Ellington, elaborated into an uncharted territory.

Taylor has extended the potential of jazz as an art form to include an exceptionally wide range of intellectual, conceptual, and spiritual expressions. The sheer speed and percussive attack of his piano playing, its extreme density of both ideas and notes, and his complete unlocking of pitch, harmony, rhythm, and tempo to exploit their vast multiplicities has for more than fifty years left some listeners baffled or overwhelmed and others ecstatically transfixed. Whether he is playing solo piano or leading one of his bands—which he often calls "Units" to underscore the structural, almost architectural nature of their improvisations—Taylor has remained an uncompromising musical innovator of the highest order. For him, music exists in a continuum that extends to all art forms, and his work is deeply informed by the artists he loves, whether musicians, dancers, architects, or poets. His expansive view of music has led him to write poetry himself (though rarely to publish it), and to branch out into dance and theater through his own performances and by working with a remarkably broad range of collaborators including The Living Theater, Dianne McIntyre, Adrienne Kennedy, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Heather Watts, and Min Tanaka.

Related Events

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In the News

"Taylor is a master collaborator, and he manages in each exchange to radiate generosity and compassion without leaning into deference or uncertainty. He simply knows how to listen."
Pitchfork

"The 87-year-old composer and improvising pianist shows why he's still a force like no other."
The Guardian

"This kind of meticulous museum treatment is unusual for a musician, let alone an improvising or living one."
The New York Times

"There are several interesting musicians who will gather [for Open Plan], and we'll see what happens. And the fun is, we have no idea what will happen."
—Cecil Taylor in the Wall Street Journal

"A Cecil Taylor Retrospective at Whitney Museum"
The New York Times

Listen: "Cecil Taylor is a perfect example of somebody who forces you to understand that visual art, music, poetry, all have something to do with each other." 
—Music Popcast by The New York Times

"Mr. Kumpf felt that the Whitney’s fifth floor, with its 18,200-square-foot expanse, would be hard for Mr. Taylor to resist."
The Wall Street Journal

"An icon of jazz, 87-year-old pianist Cecil Taylor has been breaking boundaries since his 1956 debut album."
The Wall Street Journal

"At the opening of a gallery show devoted to his work, the 87-year-old composer and improvising pianist shows why he’s still a force like no other."
The Guardian

"That was the overwhelming impression left by a glorious, transfixing and challenging opening concert on Thursday night, featuring Taylor at the piano with two sets of volatile collaborators."
JazzTimes

"The visionary 87-year-old jazz pianist Cecil Taylor received a standing ovation as he walked slowly to the stage at the Whitney Museum of American Art, using a cane and holding his assistant's arm."
ABC News

"The exhibition Open Plan: Cecil Taylor at the Whitney celebrates the revolutionary jazz pianist's life and work."
NY1

On director Amiel Courtin-Wilson's new film The Silent Eye's "world premiere" at the Whitney.
The Sydney Morning Herald