When Brushstrokes Met Keystrokes By Justin Davidson
Modest Mussorgsky’s piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition was the composer’s attempt to re-create the experience of looking at paintings; now the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and the South African artist Robin Rhode are using the piece to launch yet another visual experience. At first glance, the two artists seem oddly matched: Andsnes is soft-spoken and deliberate; Rhode is a high-energy soliloquist known for making films of himself scribbling on walls. But when Andsnes was looking to enfold a performance of the suite in an onstage video projection, he became entranced with the verve and lightness of Rhode’s work. When they met up, Andsnes walked Rhode through Mussorgsky’s piano promenade, and Rhode gave the musician a crash course in modernist art history, tearing through Rauschenberg, Dada, Constructivism, Italian arte povera, and Bauhaus.
The result is a new procession. As Andsnes plays onstage, above him a projected image of a featureless human in concert dress goes twirling through a set of abstract geometries (pictured). At the piece’s climax, we see a grand piano sitting in a dry dock. The sluice gates open, and seawater floods in, drowning the doomed instrument—while onstage its hale double keeps thundering on.