Ode to Joy
Ode to Joy
The Bruce High Quality Foundation
Oh friends, not these tones!
While some may contend a retrospective exhibition is premature for an artist “emerged” from the shadowless aftermath of September 11th, we heartily disagree. It remains the museum where “works of art go to die.” And if we are to achieve the first order of business of any self-respecting Artist-cum-Institution, to “live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse,” well, then it is high time we got on our merry way up the mountain.
And so here we are in a room full of strangers at the Brooklyn Museum dragging our collaborative corpse out into the blinding brights of now with Ode to Joy, 2001-2013. For the record, the title of the exhibition is borrowed from a work in the exhibition that borrows the final movement of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (The Ode to Joy), which is itself a musical setting of a poem by Friedrich Schiller.
We should also note, in case anyone is bothering to keep score, that our first exhibition proper (meaning there was air-conditioning) was itself A Retrospective (2008, Susan Inglett Gallery) and was followed two years later by The Retrospective: 2001-2010 (2010, Galerie Bruno Bischofberger). Many of the works from those two exhibitions are here today, together at last, so to speak, along with others born in their muddied reflections (we’ve been nothing if not narcissistic) – works from the public sphere: galleries, biennials, and art fairs, to be sure, but also homes and hotel lobbies, rivers and oceans of blood, white walls in black neighborhoods, dark tones left in the dark.
Speaking of Beethoven, he was utterly deaf when he composed his 9th Symphony and the radical Ode to Joy at its conclusion. Utterly deaf. Without irony, it seems, he added a significant preamble to Schiller’s Ode:
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather, let us raise our voices in more pleasing
and more joyful sounds!
Joy. What is that? It is apparently not the three preceding instrumental movements of the symphony. And it very well may not be anything he’d composed up to that point. All that banging on a piano with no legs, it was all for nothing. What’s past is past. What’s done is done. This now – this is joy.
So it goes. For our own part, we’ve had a willful tendency to repeat, reconstitute, reanimate, return – to “never forget,” so to speak – to “redo” works for their new moment, in keeping with our institutional mission:
The Bruce High Quality Foundation, the official arbiter of the estate of Bruce High Quality, is dedicated to the preservation of the legacy of the late social sculptor, Bruce High Quality. In the spirit of the life and work of Bruce High Quality, we aspire to invest the experience of public space with wonder, to resurrect art history from the bowels of despair, and to impregnate the institutions of art with the joy of man’s desiring.
Speaking of Bach, you might say this exhibition has a fugal structure. This catalogue, then, would serve as a kind of score: The essential theme – the amorphous identity of the Foundation itself, the minor anarchy such a mystery requires – is announced by the “Self Portraits.” This theme is developed into specific moments of collaborative reflection, the body politic allowing its own abstraction, in the works gathered under “Public Projects.” “History Paintings” function as a counter-exposition on the same theme and development, leading us toward inevitable “Ruins.” Finally, the coda, a hint of things to come: “Education.”
Speaking of Schiller, he had originally titled the piece, Ode to Freedom, but changed it apparently out of fear that such blatant politicking would get him into trouble in 1785. As if “Persist with courage, millions! Stand firm for a better world!” was not obviously directed to his friends across the Atlantic.
Joy for that. Joy in lieu of freedom. Joy as fear.
Speaking of fear, one Tuesday morning in New York in the fall of 2001, the color of a clear sky changed forever. Here was the change we could believe in: panic, confusion, anger, sympathy, frustration, panic again, another Xanax, and above all, absolute certainty – everyone, all at once, absolutely certain we felt something – anything.
So joy for that. Joy as panic and fear. Joy in lieu of freedom.
Joy for a moment of feeling implicated. Of feeling responsible. Of feeling helpless. Of feeling oh friends, not these tones! Rather let us raise our voices! Joy for something rather than nothing, even if it doesn’t work out. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the most radical gesture of art is its own existence. That it even needs defending – our only means to express the freedom still being fought for 237 years later – should be enough to fire up the daughter of Elysium in all of us.
So joy for that. Joy to the world. Joy to a park in Turkey and a canvas in Brooklyn and to the deep blue sea.
Joy to you and me.
 Alan Watts said this. And then promptly died in November of 1973.
 “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” is the final movement of a cantata composed by Bach in 1716 and 1723. The most common English version was written by Robert Bridges and the concluding verses are as follows:
Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.