The first thing I saw when I walked into Danger Came Smiling: Feminist Art and Popular Music, an exhibit at Stamford’s Franklin Street Works, was a diamond-shaped portrait featuring the faces of two iconic musicians. Shizu Saldamando’s Alice Bag and Martin Crudo juxtaposed the images of two punk vocalists who have decades’ worth of presence and inspiration between them. It was a memorable introduction to the exhibit to come, which both ventured into dynamic cultural spaces and repurposed musical imagery to impressive ends.
LPs popped up in several works, each in different contexts. A series of portraits by Xaveria Simmons featured women holding albums by a trio of artists over the faces including, memorably, Nina Simone’s Black Gold. In her curatorial essay, Maria Elena Buszek points out that Simmons’s images feature “subjects who take on the cover-artists’ identities in seemingly anachronistic settings.” They’re also compelling images in their own right, neatly composed and visually memorable. Eleanor King’s Record Steps (To The Glass Ceiling) is, as the title suggests, a kind of staircase formed form vinyl, while Redacted Records (Come Up From the Back) took album art and erased portions of it, turning familiar works by the likes of Barbra Streisand and others into something much more mysterious.
Some of the pieces seemed rooted in a particular time: a pair of video works by Ann Magnuson from the 1980s could be viewed as dispatches from (or distillations of) the concerns of a particular time. There are aspects of Vandemonium that can feel somewhat dated; the shorter Made for TV, however, in which Magnuson plays a host of characters encountered while channel-surfing over the course of a day, is even more gripping in its stylistic expansiveness.
Danger Came Smiling is a concise look at several decades’ worth of politically-engaged art and its overlap with music. Spread out over two levels, there’s plenty of resonant work to be found there. And the relative comfort of the space (and the presence of video works of long duration) marks this as a good place to linger, to consider the ways in which these works bring together the expected and the unpredictable, to listen and to think.
Photos: Matt Grubb