Bear Mitzvah in Meshugahland
New York, 1109 5th Avenue & 92nd Street
Widely known as an experimental vocalist and performance artist, Charlemagne Palestine has had an expansive career that spans being a backup drummer for Allen Ginsberg and Kenneth Anger to playing carillonneur at an Episcopal church. Although the artist currently resides in Belgium and maintains a larger presence in the European art scene, his practice manifests important elements from his Brooklyn in the ‘60s and ‘70s, while the city was burgeoning with artistic and social momentum.
Occupying the Jewish Museum’s Kaplan gallery in its entirety is Palestine’s large collection of teddy bears the he amassed over the years with curiosity and fascination. Found or hand sewn by the artist, these teddy bears in variant colors, sizes, and forms deliver the quirky and whimsical nature of the artist whose musical fashion does not fall behind in terms of unpredictability and idiosyncrasy. Accompanied by a mixed-media installation that includes mirrors, fabric, and lights, Palestine’s Mike Kelley-esque installation merges consumeristic aesthetic with transcendental and nostalgic notions. Childhood, as an equally painful and riveting era, revives in a lush and over-the-top composition that includes a repurposed rowboat full of stuffed toys titled Noah’s Ark.
“We have bears, we have dogs, cats, and I like these spirits working with me. Also, I found problems with visual arts and sound arts: it's cold, self-analytical, without soul. It's for that reason that many people interested in minimal music tell me that I'm a crazy guy going around with my stuffed animals… but these animals have a real presence! When you are a child, the reason you are given these animals is because it's the child's first contact with some kind of a spirit that will be part of the real world and it's a question of trust and contact,” said the artist in an interview with on Perfect Sound Forever when asked about the relevance of teddy bears in his musical work.
Charlemagne Palestine’s Bear Mitzvah in Meshugahland runs through August 6, 2017.