Pope.L: Choir
Oct 10, 2019–Mar 8, 2020

For almost four decades, Pope.L (b. 1955) has challenged us to confront some of the most pressing questions about American society as well as about the very nature of art. Best known for enacting arduous and provocative interventions in public spaces, Pope.L addresses issues and themes ranging from language to gender, race, social struggle, and community. His boundary-breaking practice ranges from performance to painting, installation, video, sculpture, and theater. Pope.L: Instigation, Aspiration, Perspiration is a trio of complementary exhibitions organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Modern Art, and Public Art Fund. Utilizing both public and private spaces, the expansive presentation will address many elements of the artist’s oeuvre from singular early works, to a monumental new installation, and a new large-scale performative work inspired by the artist’s iconic crawl series on the streets of New York City.

At the Whitney, the artist will create a new installation entitled Choir. Expanding on Pope.L’s ongoing exploration and use of water, Choir is inspired by the fountain, the public arena, and John Cage’s conception of music and sound. The Whitney presentation is organized by Christopher Y. Lew, Nancy and Fred Poses Curator, with Ambika Trasi, curatorial assistant. The audio design for Pope.L: Choir is by Matthew Sage, in collaboration with the artist. Pope.L is the recipient of the Bucksbaum Award for his contribution to the 2017 Biennial.

The MoMA presentation will focus on thirteen early landmark performances from 1978–2001 that helped define Pope.L's career and are representative of the artist’s core concerns. The exhibition will explore the performances through a combination of archival videos, photographs, ephemera, sculptural elements, and live actions. The MoMA presentation is organized by Stuart Comer, Chief Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art, with Danielle A. Jackson, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Media and Performance Art.

Inspired by his decades-long crawl series, Pope.L will unveil a new publicly-activated crawl on the streets of New York City with Public Art Fund. In dozens of previous iterations, the artist has dragged his own body across the urban landscape, most notably with his Times Square Crawl (1978), Tompkins Square Crawl (1991), and The Great White Way, 22 Miles, 9 Years, 1 Street (2001–2009). For this new commission, titled Conquest, he will engage members of the public to explore the potential and power of collective action for his largest and most ambitious crawl to date. This public performance is organized by Public Art Fund Director and Chief Curator Nicholas Baume, with Public Art Fund Assistant Curator Katerina Stathopoulou.

Pope.L: Choir is sponsored by

Major support is provided by the John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation.

Significant support is provided by The Keith Haring Foundation Exhibition Fund.

Something from Nothing: On Pope.L’s Choir and Other Waters

By Christopher Y. Lew, Nancy and Fred Poses Curator

Read more

Reflections of water in test tank in the artist's studio

Audio Guides

“I think one way to talk about Choir using water is, it's all about gravity. I've been interested in gravity for a very long time, and water expresses gravity like no other material.”—Pope.L

Hear from Pope.L about the work in the exhibition.

Pope.L, Choir, 2019


Pope.L: I think one way to talk about Choir using water is, it's all about gravity. I've been interested in gravity for a very long time, and water expresses gravity like no other material. 

And I guess the fact that you know, water takes the shape of the container that it fills or that it's inside of. And, I like the idea that it has this...and this is metaphorical in a way: it sort of goes where it's needed.

There is an aspect of Choir that has to do with social references, or historical references; the use of a fountain from that period of 1950s, having to do with Jim Crow laws, where whites would have one set of fountains and Blacks, another set. And sometimes they were side by side. I still sort of remember some of this from being a child. Yes, in that sense, does water go wherever it is needed? I guess with man's intervention, I suppose not. But, if it was up to water, water would go wherever it was needed. 

When water moves through a pipe, it creates a kind of sound. So, I'm exploiting that through using contact mics on the piping itself. Walking into this room should be like, walking into a puzzle of sound. 

The language there was one of the last things to happen, and I was trying to give the viewer more clues to how to decipher the puzzle of this particular work. Much of the language, if when you see it, is missing letters. In listening to water, one finds that one—at least I do—when I'm listening to it, I sort of go in and out of listening with the water.

What's interesting about water as a sonic object, if I can call it that, is something that has a sound life. Is that there are many pitches in the sound of moving water I should say, especially cascading water, gushing water, even more pitches.

For many people who look at sound—try and record sounds like water—it’s very difficult because of the muddiness, or the fact that pitches in many ways are conflicting. It reminds me of gospel music as I experienced it as a child. It's a weird thing. I'm talking about the kind of gospel music that's not professional—amateur. In small churches where you have a lot of amateur singers, who are not on pitch and the Black church that I grew up in, the audience sings along with the choir. So, you have a lot of people that have a big heart to sing, but they may not have the equipment. As a child you are surrounded by these people. There just singing their little hearts out, and it's all off key and it's wacky, you know? So much energy, and so much lack of technique, but water has that kind of complexity of these really straight forward pictures and then there's a lot of noise, if you will, in the sound, which I appreciate. 

I think there’s a kind of arrogance in using this kind of material in this quantity. I think that in some ways, I'm expressing a kind of privilege in being able to do this. There's a kind of edge to that in the work. 

Installation Photography

In the News

“Bringing together Pope.L’s archive and his new obsessions, these three venues will offer observers a wealth of opportunities to be frustrated and thrilled by the artist’s race and class provocations.” —Artforum

“For an artist as expansive as Pope.L—who puts race, gender, social imbalance, and societal absurdity in raucous play in sculptures, videos, paintings, and performances—one venue won’t do.” ArtNews

Pope. L: Instigation, Aspiration, Perspiration [...] is a sampler of work, old and new, by an influential Conceptualist who once billed himself as “The Friendliest Black Artist in America” and is still one of the sharpest social satirists in the business.” The New York Times

“This fall, Pope.L “retrospects and re-prospects” a tripartite creative surge.” Cultured

“This trifecta of performances and exhibitions places the work of Mr. Pope.L, a provocateur who’s long worked in the margins of New York’s civic spaces, at the nerve center of the art world.” —The New York Times

“We are lucky to have Pope.L as this season’s headliner of the Whitney and the MoMA, because his work thrives in the maddening swirl of contradictions that is our reality.” The Art Newspaper

"The Chicago-based artist Pope.L is having a New York City moment." —WNYC

"Pope.L Has Never Been More Urgent." Frieze

"It’s mesmerizing to sit before a specific amount of water, and contemplate the ways we use, exploit, and waste this most important of resources on a regular basis. This is the experience of witnessing Choir (2019)." The Brooklyn Rail



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