Solid critique on the "Sympathy for the Devil" show. I saw it when it was at the MCA, but unlike you, really liked it! I can definitely understand, though, how it might seem less than pleasing if you were after some good eye-stimulation. Ironically, I was just listening to "Destroy All Monsters," the California art star band, featuring Mike Kelley---the title track is "Bored." If I weren't such a rock fanatic, I would've viewed the show a glorified theme exhibition for the interior space of one of those restaurants like Planet Hollywood. But...was instead thrilled to watch the totally boring Warhol video-portraits of the Velvet Underground, see Tony Oursler interpret those crazy experimental sound artists of the West Coast, walk on a floor of records, and grab a Felix Gonzalez Torres inspired poster saying "What would Neil Young do?" I've always been fascinated with the nexus of art and music, and was glad that artists of sound were getting a little attention in the contemporary discussion. I do, however, feel that it was an excluding show---not unlike other contemporary art exhibitions, though. If the viewer isn't already in tune with the references, the bands, the songs, the connections, he/she would feel a bit left out. This was the indie elitism of music on display, the curator almost flaunting his knowledge--glamorizing obscurity--yet another chance to trump the general public. One might feel like she was walking into a really hip record store wanting to buy some mainstream music and getting the "evil eye" from the cool-kid desk clerks. On the other hand, it might be more inclusive of folks that understand the music world, but are lost in the visual art world.
Some positive things: I really liked how the exhibition was arranged---almost by region. The East Coast and West coast art scenes fueling a lot of the energy for experimental/innovative sound. I also enjoyed examining the contrasts in style and content of the East vs. the West in art and how that parallels style and content in the music of each (in many cases, artists playing both roles, and artist/musician friend groups working with related aesthetics). The show also hit on the celebrity-hype status surrounded by much of the cult music world that seems to surpass the amount of attention or fame attributed to visual artists. One video showed Morrissey's audience--a screaming crowd of people almost in a state of ecstasy, as if it were the second coming of Christ. Another video depicting the sensational performance of a UK punk group (can't remember the name), a documented spectacle that otherwise would only exist in the memories of those who attended the live show. This power of music performance, I think, supercedes visual art in its capability to touch, connect, and move a wide audience. Music is amazing, and live performance can be a spiritual experience--much more experiential than the dry critical "reading" of artworks on the walls of the MCA. So...the show hit in a few places, but that's also because I could relate.
I wonder if the show included more tactile mediums (like your player piano punched papers) instead of fan eye-candy, would you have liked it?
Hope to post again soon, but I'm super busy these days.