Song: in America, but Not Of America

A few weeks ago, a friend and I went to the Cleveland Museum of Art.  One of the exhibits was a video sculpture called Song.  Song features the artist’s three blonde nieces singing a simple refrain over and over.  They sit on a round platform (or table in the middle of a room in Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.  The artist filmed the girls for six hours in 360 degrees with the camera rotating around the girls.  The singers slowly transition from sitting to lying down, from reading to brushing their hair.  The girls occasionally sing together, or solo.

Before I watched a portion of the film, I saw a short video.  The video explains that this video sculpture was made for America.  The artist talks about how Pittsburgh is  a steel city, full of factories.  The Curator of the Cleveland Museum of Art feels that Song is an appropriate exhibition for Cleveland, due to its similarity to Pittsburgh.  As a result of that similarity, the artist feels that the piece speaks to Cleveland.  I must disagree.  I liked Song, do not misunderstand me.  But the piece has nothing to do with Cleveland, and nothing to do with America.

The sculpture has nothing industrial about it.  The room in the Carnegie Museum resembles the Pantheon and the table is covered in soft, bright blue fabric and a series of books.  The subjects are three young girls, or sirens as my friend pointed out.  Further more, the girls are singing poetry.

Pittsburgh and Cleveland are cities built on the factories.  We were built on steel and coal, fire and smoke.  We were cities of labor; the work was dangerous and difficult.  We were places  of shift whistles and lunch pails.  As we toured the art museum, we spent some time in the Cleveland room, which featured local artists.  Many of the pieces celebrated that history.  They were structures of bronze or paintings with a complete lack of white, blue, or green.  The subjects were men, not women, most of them factory workers.

Song is definitely made in America.  The film was filmed in Pittsburgh, the girls are singing a refrain based on Allen Ginsburg, and one of the books is a volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry.  Yet, this is not a sculpture of America.  Rather, this is a sculpture of European gentry and a celebration of a leisurely existence.  It is certainly not a sculpture of a steel town.

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