Solange Tears Down the Walls of the Guggenheim With An Ode To Performance

by Sid Feddema

Two years ago, the Guggenheim banned Downtown Brooklyn’s Science Skills Center High School from ever making another trip to the museum after a few of the teens apparently got too rowdy. A staffer observed that it was also the first time a group of mostly black kids had taken up space in the museum.

On Thursday, Solange and a contingent of other artists of color—30-plus dancers, a full band and a horn ensemble—belted it out, twerked, thrashed around on the floor and yelled and otherwise got rowdy in the rotunda of the sacrosanct New York City art museum as part of the Red Bull Music Academy Festival. 

Solange: An Ode To—choreographed and composed by the artist, performed in front of a set (or is it an installation?) she designed – defies neat categorization. The New York Times reviewed it in both the Dance and Fashion & Style Sections. Antwaun Sargent of W Magazine deemed it “performance art with a setlist.” Maybe it was just an elaborately staged gig in a fancy art museum. Whatever one labels it, An Ode To follows a related April performance, “Scales,” and further proves that Solange is an artist in the fullest sense of the word.

An Ode To featured 11 songs reworked from Solange’s soon-to-be-called seminal A Seat at the Table and continues the album’s exploration of being a woman of color in a world where black people are nonchalantly killed by police every day and strangers think that it’s acceptable to touch your hair. Incredibly, no videos of the performance exist online (it seems the audience obeyed Solange’s no cell phones request) but MTV writer Tirhakah Loves gives us an idea of what the all white-clad audience (including similarly idol-worthy artists like Kelela, Bjork and Janelle Monae) witnessed:

“I watched as women across the room threw up praise hands and vibed out with guttural jerks as Solange and crew carried the entire record without the guidance of rhythms or electric noise. The high-pitched wails that haven't been heard so soulfully delivered since Minnie Riperton's heyday were no longer Solange's solo endeavor. Now everyone, from Solange to her background singers to the musicians themselves, let out visceral howls that, once again, radiated throughout the rotunda's rows . . .”

In A Seat at the Table’s “Borderline (Ode to Self Care),” Solange reflects on the necessity of taking time away from the 24-hour bad news cycle for the sake of self-preservation. “Let's take it off tonight/break it off tonight/baby, it's war outside these walls,” she sings. But after performing, Solange made a promise to “not just settle for being allowed in these spaces but wanting to tear the fucking walls down.”

Let the kids from Science Skills Center rush the Guggenheim in the wake of her radical destruction.

Written by Kylie Obermeier
Photography courtesy Carys Huws, Stacy Kranitz, and Krisanne Johnson / Red Bull Content Pool