The Great Integrater

Post by Shelley Spector


[Ed. Note – When artist and gallery owner Shelley Spector was in art school in the 1980s, performance artist Laurie Anderson came to one of her classes and performed. I asked Spector to tell us about it. Here’s her report. (Anderson, by the way, will talk about her work at the ICA this Wednesday at 6 p.m.)]

It was 1980 or 1981 and I was a sophomore. Laurie Anderson (image at top) came into my classroom and I’d never heard of her. It was before she was well-known – before she had her show at the old ICA (1983) and before she had that hit “O Superman.” I don’t know who invited her or how she got there.


She basically did a performance. With a projector and a special violin that she had invented, she told stories by writing, speaking and drawing diagrams on the blackboard. It was very theatrical. Nothing was spontaneous. It was very tight — choreographed, a smaller version of the performances she eventually moved onto. (image left is Anderson’s 1981 album “Big Science” on which “O Superman” appeared.)

I was coming from a dance background and I was doing sculpture. I was trying to make it come together but I was frustrated and school wasn’t helping me integrate things.

And here was this woman who was incorporating sculpture and music and performance. She took her diverse talents and interests and put them together. It was really, really exciting for me. Thinking back on it Laurie Anderson’s method of integrating music, art and performance demonstrated to me the division between fine and performing arts could be dissolved and that’s something that has always stayed with me. (image below is from eight-hour, multi-media performance, “United States, I-IV,” 1983)


A lot of young artists who show at my gallery [SPECTOR] try to integrate things – especially music and art. They make music along with their art and sometimes they make mixes – or their own music — which I play in the gallery while their shows are up. Some of the artists play live at their openings.


I don’t know if the younger generation of artists know Anderson’s works but I think they might find her just as relevant as I did when I was in school. [Note: for more on Anderson, check out the PBS website for the series Art 21, in which Anderson was featured. ]

–Shelley Spector’s next solo show at the Painted Bride in the fall of ’05 will include motorized sculpture, interactive components and an original musical sound track. Spector curated the upcoming USED at the Painted Bride, opening April 2. SPECTOR Gallery has “Thumbs Up Immediately,” a solo show by Thom Lessner, opening April 16.