Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Steve Reich’s “WTC 9/11″ and Tom Friedman

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Originally, the cover art for Nonesuch Records’ release of composer Steve Reich’s “WTC 9/11,” performed by Kronos Quartet, was to be the image you see at right. After the cover earned unwanted attention last week, Reich changed his mind about the cover. New cover art has yet to be released. On Nonesuch Records’ website, Reich explained his decision:

As a composer I want people to listen to my music without something distracting them. The present cover of “WTC 9/11″ will, for many, act as a distraction from listening and so, with the gracious agreement of Nonesuch, the cover is being changed.

When the cover was being designed, I believed, as did all the staff at Nonesuch and the art director, that a piece of music with documentary material from an event would best be matched with a documentary photograph of that event. I felt that the photo suggested by our art director was very powerful, and Nonesuch backed me up. All of us felt that anyone seeing the cover would feel the same way.

When the cover was released on the Nonesuch site and elsewhere, there was, instead, an outpouring of controversy mostly by people who had never heard the music.

Reich’s initial cover reminded me of this untitled 2005 work by Tom Friedman, which was first exhibited at MOCA’s “Ecstasy” exhibition in 2005. The work is eight-feet tall and the ‘tower’ is 16 inches by 16 inches. (The inclusion of the ‘plane’ at left makes the piece a little larger than that.)

“It’s a single, monolithic tower, and a plane appropriately scaled is just touching it,” “Ecstasy” curator Paul Schimmel told me in 2007, adding that the Friedman was a late addition to the exhibition because Friedman insisted including it. “It’s like the moment before, it’s the moment before everything changed. It’s very reductive and minimal, but it’s a very charged political piece.”

Perhaps because the piece debuted in Los Angeles and not on the East Coast and because 2005 wasn’t a  notable 9/11 anniversary, I don’t recall it generating any particular controversy, certainly not as much as Reich’s album cover. Also: I’m guessing that even a little bit of abstraction helps.

Related: The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette on the Reich/Kronos cover. The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Swed reviewed the West Coast premier of Reich’s “WTC 9/11.”

Related on visual art and 9/11: The complete links to MAN’s 2007 series on art in response to 9/11. Featuring Art Institute of Chicago curator James Rondeau, Museum of Modern Art curator Ann Temkin and Schimmel.

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  1. Given the abstract qualities of Reich’s music, I’d think a photo of the Friedman sculpture would work better.

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