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The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will host a free online presentation of “Duets on Ice,” an iconic performance work by celebrated American multimedia artist Laurie Anderson, Saturday, Oct. 10, at 4 p.m. ET. The artist will perform the work—streamed live for the first time—from the Hirshhorn’s outdoor plaza, and it will be available online exclusively through the museum’s website and YouTube channel.
“For almost five decades, Anderson has brought unparalleled technological and conceptual innovation into the worlds of art and music,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “The Hirshhorn is thrilled to present this influential artwork to our global audience. In the spirit of Anderson’s commitment to creating unique connections between art and technology, the museum will livestream her performance online from our campus. This is a new opportunity to share the most engaging art experiences while our main building is closed.”
Debuted in New York in 1974, “Duets on Ice” is one of Anderson’s earliest performance pieces. In it the artist plays an electronic violin fitted with a prerecording of the work’s composition, enabling her to enact a series of duets with herself while wearing ice skates that have been frozen into blocks of ice. Anderson performs until the ice melts and she loses her balance.
“Duets on Ice” is one of several performance pieces that Anderson employs to define the relationship between artist and audience, a profound and intimate exploration of meaning of narrative and interaction. Of the work, Anderson was quoted in Rolling Stone Magazine saying, “I talked about the parallels between skating and violin playing—blades over a surface—and about balancing, and what it means to play a duet with yourself.”
This presentation of “Duets on Ice” is offered in anticipation of “Laurie Anderson: The Weather,” an exhibition that the Hirshhorn will open in spring 2021. Surveying her groundbreaking video and performance works from the 1970s to the present, “Laurie Anderson: The Weather” will guide visitors through an immersive audiovisual experience in the museum’s second-floor galleries. This dynamic exhibition will showcase the artist’s boundless creative process by highlighting time-based media, as well as the largest exhibition of her paintings to date, while introducing new site-specific works. It will include landmark artworks such as “Habeas Corpus” (2015), a monumental video-sculpture that examines the experience of Mohammed el Gharani, who was detained at Guantánamo Bay throughout his adolescence, via multimedia storytelling.
Throughout her career, Anderson has experimented with music and emerging technologies to create artworks that resonate with a wide audience, including her song “O Superman” (1981), which expanded her global following. Nearly 50 years after “Duets on Ice” was first performed, this presentation, set within the museum’s distinctive architecture, will position the work against a sculptural backdrop. Anderson’s activation of the plaza will be a chance for audiences to experience the building while it is temporarily closed to the public due to COVID-19, and the setting on the National Mall is meaningful for an artist who has investigated pressing issues such as national identity, the climate crisis and the effects of technology on human relationships.
“Duets on Ice” will be streamed live on the Hirshhorn’s YouTube channel and embedded on the museum’s website. Anderson’s performance also will be recorded and made available following the event on the Hirshhorn’s YouTube channel. This program is part of “Talking to Our Time: What Comes Next,” an event series that focuses on giving global audiences access to understanding how artists exercise their agency to impact significant change in the world. It is also part of #HirshhornInsideOut, an ongoing effort to share the Hirshhorn’s artworks, expertise and public programming at a time when the museum’s building is temporarily closed. The Hirshhorn’s plaza is currently open to the public, but it will be closed for the event.
About the Artist
A Grammy Award–winning musician, performer, writer and artist, Anderson has an international reputation as an artist who combines the traditions of the avant-garde with popular culture. Anderson’s theatrical works fuse a variety of media, including performance, music, poetry, sculpture, opera, anthropological investigations and linguistic games, to elicit emotional reactions. As a visual artist, Anderson has been shown at the Guggenheim Museum, SoHo and extensively in Europe, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. She has also released seven albums for Warner Bros., including Big Science, featuring the song “O Superman,” which rose to No. 2 on the British pop charts. In 1999, Anderson staged “Songs and Stories from Moby Dick,” an interpretation of Herman Melville’s 1851 novel.
About the Hirshhorn
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all. The Hirshhorn’s outdoor sculpture garden and plaza are open daily 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. The museum building is currently closed due to COVID-19. For more information, visit hirshhorn.si.edu. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
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