August 20 2014

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Antony Hegarty: One Night Only


The Museum of Modern Art is quietly making a case for being the best music venue in town. Of late, the museum has hosted performances by the likes of Patti Smith, Michael Stipe, Kanye West, and Jay-Z, and was preparing to host Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, in a companion piece to his 2008 MoMA show. Then things got ambitious.

“At some point, we actually thought we would build a pool in the MoMA Atrium that you could walk over, and then it became a rotating laser lights, a 60-piece orchestra, hanging light sculptures,” MoMA’s chief curator at large, Klaus Biesenbach, said by phone from the Sundance Film Festival. “Then last year we realized we couldn’t fit it into the Atrium.” The new show, Swanlights, will be performed instead at Radio City Musical Hall. Swanlights, a one-night-only engagement, is a continuation of Hegarty’s 2008 performance at MoMA. “We did that one at the clock tower, it was much more intimate,” says Biesenbach. “That one was about carrying sound through the space, video productions and him singing.” From there, the show developed into the Antony and the Johnsons album The Crying Light, which was included in the exhibition 100 Years (version #2, ps1, nov 2009) at MoMA’s PS1. Hegarty and Biesenbach then spent two more years developing Swanlights, which includes songs from all four of Antony and the Johnsons’ albums set to symphonic arrangements by Nico Muhly, Rob Moose, and Maxim Moston, set to rotating light displays by artist Chris Levine.

Given Hegarty’s rabid following—especially among the fashion set—the decision to stage only a single performance is bound to ruffle a few feathers. But Biesenbach insists that the uniqueness is part of the point. “All the focus, energy, and artistic presence goes into the one night, which makes it an unrepeatable moment,” he says. “It’s a fleeting moment, it’s not meant to be repeated.” And what does he have planned for MoMA’s next show? His lips are sealed. “I’m German—it’s called superstition.”

Photo: Jan Erik Svendsen

Dept. of Culture