LOS ANGELES -- Before Beck, whose tenacity for incorporating
cultural sound effects and ideas in his music has made him one of today's most
acclaimed musical artists, there was his grandfather, a less known but equally
innovative collage artist.
Just as Beck's sample-heavy, genre-crossing pop music seems to celebrate the
junk culture of the '90s, so did his grandpa Al Hansen's work pay tribute to the
use of multimedia and commercial materials of his time in art.
With his grandfather's artistic sense to draw from, it was only a matter of time
before Beck ventured from music into the realm of fine art himself. That time has
come as the acclaimed modern-rock musician and sly master of sonic
juxtaposition takes his first official step into the fine-art world with the May 9
opening of the exhibit, "Beck & Al Hansen: Playing with Matches," at the Santa
Monica Museum of Art. To help launch the display, Beck plans to give a
performance on May 7 at the museum, in conjunction with its gala opening at a
new location in Santa Monica's Bergamot Station Art Center, 2525 Michigan
"First and foremost, it is a tribute to Al Hansen, who never got his due during his
lifetime," curator Wayne Baerwaldt said. "There's a sense of turning shit into
gold that Beck definitely got from Al."
To create just the right atmosphere for the exhibit, the display will be set in a
small re-creation of Hansen's last studio in Cologne, Germany, where he died in
1995 while working on his last piece.
The installation will feature artwork by the 27-year-old Beck and by Hansen, the
innovative intermedia artist. More than 140 pieces by both artists are going to
be on display: collages, assemblages, drawings, photographs and audio and
To those who know his music, it should be no surprise that Beck's foray into the
visual arts takes an approach similar to his songs, emphasizing collage and
found objects. Some of the elements that he uses? Line drawings of skulls.
Cryptic portraits with Latin text. Hand-held calculators. Colored feathers. Cut-out
magazine illustrations. Shredded paper. And the list goes on.
And while it's yet to be seen how the world will receive his latest endeavor, the
Los Angeles-based Beck is no stranger to rave reviews and Artist of the Year
awards. His albums -- catchy, idiosyncratic mixes of rock, folk, blues, hip-hop
and found-sound -- have sold millions worldwide. In 1993, he achieved a top-10
breakthrough single with "Loser" and a gold record for the album Mellow
Gold. His most recent album, 1996's Odelay, was nominated for an
Album of the Year Grammy.
But this art exhibit takes Beck into an entirely new media.
"I was looking at the elements that provide a bridge between Beck and Al
Hansen, links in terms of words in texts or poems; images as well as ... elements
[of performance]," Baerwaldt said.
Most of Beck's art that will be included in the exhibit has not been shown before,
with the exception of a few pieces that were recently displayed in Canada. In
using less text and lyrics to link Beck's work to Hansen's than he had originally
planned, Baerwaldt has chosen to emphasize the young artist's collages and a
new video-tape compilation, including footage of Beck and his grandfather over
a continuous soundtrack.
"Beck and Al had a very unusual relationship, very symbiotic in terms of their
art-making, and the exhibit reflects that," said Susan Martin, whose company,
Susan Martin Public Relations, is promoting the exhibit. Martin is also
publishing "Playing with Matches," a book that will be put out by Plug In and
Smart Art Press in May and features 96 color and 48 black-and-white pictures,
an essay by Baerwaldt and an interview with Beck.
Between 1989-91, Beck made several trips to Cologne to visit his
grandfather, during which times, Baerwaldt said, they developed
significant bodies of mixed media that reconfirmed their mutual interests in
the art-making strategies that Hansen had initiated in New York, Los Angeles
and Europe in the '60s and '70s.
In the late 1950s, Hansen co-founded a new theater movement called
Happenings, which combined Pop Art and Zen influences. (He later published a
book on avant-garde "happenings," titled "A Primer of Happenings and
Time/Space Art.") The Fluxus movement -- which took a liberating,
interdisciplinary approach outside established art channels -- also informed
Hansen's artistry, as seen in the use of Hershey bar wrappers, magazine
imagery, cigarettes and matches in his work.
"I've tried to gather an array of finished works as well as the ephemera, the
detritus, the traveling suitcases of Al's," Baerwaldt said, "the bits of
correspondence that litter the paths of the artists and point to the recurring
themes and ideas that are filtered through the objects and performative
elements of each artist."
This "junkyard vision" characterizes Beck's work not only in the sample-laden
sound of his music (derived from his passion for "discarded styles and stances")
but also in his visual art, which appropriates similar found -- and otherwise junk-
like -- objects, Baerwaldt said.
Referencing Beck's use of a leaf blower onstage earlier in his career,
Baerwaldt said that Beck's museum performance on May 7, as part of the
facility's inaugural gala, won't be a typical Beck show -- if there is such a thing.
"He very much wants to see it as an art performance," he said. "Al promoted the
idea that the vitality of the body has to be read as a performative element, and
Beck understands that -- that it doesn't matter what he does, it's performance.
That's the interesting departure, I think, redefining it as, not Beck, but Beck
Hansen presenting an art performance."