It’s been well documented in the annals of Rock lore, that in the winter of 1970, Led Zeppelin holed up in Headley Grange, an ivy-clad poorhouse in Hampshire, England to record the majority of their fourth album (LZ IV), which went 23x Platinum, features “Stairway to Heaven,” and is considered one of the greatest albums ever made. Other bands in the area (Genesis, Fleetwood Mac) had previously used it for rehearsal space, but it was drummer John Bonham and Zeppelin’s recording engineer, Andy Johns, who immortalized the house’s internal architecture and natural acoustics when they recorded the muddy, but thunderous drums for “When the Levee Breaks” at the bottom of an old staircase ascending three-stories through the center of the Victorian mansion’s main hall.
While sitting on the ground floor of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum late last week during Israeli artist Naama Tsabar’s sound check and rehearsals for the musical performances taking place at this year’s Young Collectors Party (April 12th), I couldn’t help but imagine the late John Bonham’s ghost, tapping his foot and gazing skyward, up through the museum’s famed, spiraling rotunda, wishing he could join in on the fun.
Even if Bonham were still alive and game, someone would have to explain to him that women are running the sure to be monumental sound at this year’s annual benefit party, which is celebrating new (2017) acquisitions by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Sheree Hovsepian, Cameron Rowland, Martine Syms, and Wu Tsang; each made possible with the assistance of the Young Collectors Council. This year, as small and mid-sized galleries struggle to find new and consistent patrons, being a “young collector” really means something.
“In 2014, I was in a performance show here called Blood Makes Noise, which Nat Trotman curated,” says Tsabar of her first professional collaboration with the museum. “Soon after, the Guggenheim acquired my work for their permanent collection.” This was one of her “Works On Felt,” a series Tsabar began in 2012. “They acquired Work On Felt (Variation 4), 2015. I know, quite literal, right? That was the first work that, as opposed to being on the floor, moved to the wall. It’s been an ongoing dialogue with the curatorial team ever since.”
Tsabar, who was born in Israel and received her MFA at Columbia University in 2010, has been attending the YCC party for the last two years. When it came to selecting a musical show-runner for the 2018 edition, which would be taking place amidst a clear, female-centric paradigm shift, reaching out to Tsabar was a no-brainer. “My practice is sculptural, very installation based, but it also has a very strong performative aspect,” says the Brooklyn-based artist, curator and activist. “I also work a lot with musicians in activating my work, so I have a very large community of collaborators in the city.”
This year’s thematic through-line isn’t a dramatic departure from Tsabar’s ongoing mission. She often chooses to work with female-identifying or gender non-binary musicians. Though this isn’t entirely new, it remains a specific, conscious move. “I’m looking to insert my work into a new or different gendered history, rather than the one that preceded it,” she says. “With the Guggenheim and the YCC Party, I’m continuing that action.”
Starting off the evening will be the Brooklyn-based, Buke and Gase, a clear reference to the group’s use of handmade instruments such as the “toe-bourine,” the “buke,” a six-string former-baritone ukulele, and the “gase,” a guitar-bass hybrid. “They’re amazing-mind-blowing,” says Tsabar, who discovered the duo while researching musicians for a performance she did on the Highline in 2016, Composition 20. “I came across Arone Dyer, one half of Buke and Gase [the other half is Aron Sanchez] and commissioned a song from her, so that’s pretty recent. Their music calls upon a lot of surprising influences; electronic music, rap, rock, all weaved together into something unique.”
Next up is PRIMA, also based in Brooklyn and fronted by vocalist and guitarist Rose Blanshei. Joining her will be the viola player, Juilliard alum Jeanann Dara and drummer Rosana Cabán, all of whom have collaborated with Tsabar in the past. Word is they’ll be unveiling some new jams for the performance. “For me, it’s one of those blossoming moments,” says Tsabar of Blanshei. “It’s a really special time to see her.”
The last band is Fielded, a performance-heavy musical project fronted by Lindsay Powell, also a long time friend and collaborator of Tsabar’s, who flirts with the idea that members of PRIMA should be joining in on Powell’s set. “There’s a real cross-weaving, which is something I find really interesting,” adds Tsabar. “Fielded is also on the verge of peaking. She has a new album coming out, tentatively titled, Drip Drip, which I’ve heard and it’s really beyond good-very exciting. She’s one of those people that has crazy energy on stage. She’s a really strong woman with this amazing voice and she’s also a very potent songwriter. It’s going to be a real treat.”
Rounding out the musical programming is DJ Bearcat. “She’s really good,” promises Tsabar. “She’s going to focus on a woman-centric mix and there should be some live interplay with the bands.”
Throughout the rehearsal, a museum employee was nervously holding a Sound Level (decimal) Meter (SLM) while standing beside the numerous, shaking chandeliers (actual artifacts present during the [Vietnam] Paris Peace Accords) that populate Danh Vo’s incredible show, Take My Breath Away. Throughout the interview, Tsabar was eyeing this employee with genuine concern, while simultaneously wearing a mischievous Mona Lisa smile.
“The sound in the Guggenheim is of its own kind; reverberating and big,” she says. “When I performed here in 2014, we performed in one of the tower galleries and you almost didn’t need amplification. The sound is very good, very balanced. We’re going to push the limits of the Guggenheim the way we would a music venue or dive bar as much as we can.”
After attending the previous YCC parties, Tsabar noticed people always gather in the middle of the rotunda or to the centralized action-a natural human instinct. “I want to break that, so there won’t be one performance location,” she adds. “Rather each band will be in different locations performing their unique set. You’ll be walking around the musicians and this beautiful, poetic exhibition, which is just beyond inspiring, period.”
Tsabar, who is represented by Paul Kasmin here in NY, wants attendees to get down and dance, but she also wants people to remain positively present in their minds and bodies. “First of all, I’m a woman experiencing this world in my own body and my own gender, so I can’t not have that be part of my agenda,” says the artist, just moments before rejoining her musicians. “I’ve always pushed it, but it does seem more important now, because there is a tipping point. It feels like we all have to make conscious decisions everyday, because we are born into a certain society-a certain culture that embeds things in us that we don’t even know, so we make automatic decisions that are sometimes wrong and against our own politics and personal interests. That’s why I’m making conscious decisions to change my immediate surroundings.”
Kurt McVey began his journalism career as a prolific contributor to Interview Magazine where he covered emerging and established names in the art, music, fashion and entertainment worlds. He has since contributed to The New York Times, T Magazine, Vanity Fair, Paper Magazine, ArtNet News, Forbes, Whitehot Magazine, and many more. A Long Island native, McVey is also a successful artist, model, performer, entrepreneur, and screenwriter working out of NYC.