LOS ANGELES — Techno music pioneer Carl Craig is no stranger to warehouses. For over 30 years, the electronic music producer and DJ has been an influential figure on the dancefloor, from DJing underground parties in his native Detroit to headlining festivals and clubs around the world. This weekend, Craig will transform a 40,000-square-foot former police car warehouse in LA’s Little Tokyo, the largest of three branches of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) — not into an all-night party, but into an art installation that celebrates the club as a site of community, liberation, and transcendence.

Party/After-Party uses sound and light to chart a course through a night in the life of a DJ, from the calm before the crowds appear to the throb and strobe of the party all the way through to the ambient comedown the morning after. It also conveys some of the loneliness and physical effects — like tinnitus — that come with being at the center of the party, a “contrast to the glamorous perception of the touring musician,” in Craig’s words.

The work is based around overlapping sonic loops that shift and flow around the room via an array of speakers, programmed so that every 30-minute cycle is different. Four LED columns provide a minimal, visual counterpart to the music.

“I want people to be attracted to where the sounds take them,” Craig told Hyperallergic. “There are sounds coming from almost every spot in the room, whispers, sounds that fly over your head. I hope it surprises people.”  

Craig originally created the work for Dia Beacon. (© Carl Craig; photo by Bill Jacobson Studio, courtesy Dia Art Foundation, New York)

The work was originally commissioned for Dia Beacon in 2020, and Craig worked with the center’s then-curator Kelly Kivland for five years to design the installation specifically in response to that site’s industrial architecture. “When I was asked to consider coming to MOCA, I really had to think about it long and hard,” Craig said. “I visited the spot quote a few times before it made sense for me to give the green light … This will be a great adventure for someone who has seen the piece in its original form.” According to Alex Sloane, MOCA’s associate curator of performance and programs, this iteration is a site-specific “second chapter of the work” that considers the museum space’s unique qualities and needs.

One key difference between the two versions comes at a critical moment when daylight comes flooding into the darkened space. At Dia, a wall of windows opened via mechanical louvers, something that’s not possible at MOCA. “We’re using skylights, which makes the piece different, as California daylight, a richer lighting, comes in from the ceiling,” Craig explained.

Installation view of Carl Craig: Party/After-Party at Dia Beacon, Beacon, New York, 2020 (© Carl Craig; photo by Bill Jacobson Studio, courtesy Dia Art Foundation, New York)

Another difference relates to the timing of each exhibition. It was scheduled to open at Dia on March 6, 2020, a week before the first COVID-19 lockdowns shuttered much of the country. When it reopened during a brief lull in the pandemic later that summer, it was an emotional moment.

“It made you crave the intimacy of the nightclub that you couldn’t go to,” Sloane says. “This new chapter is a chance for joy and euphoria to come to the museum.”

Although Party/After-Party has its roots in underground dance culture, Craig makes it clear that he is not simply transforming the museum into a club. He cites Max Neuhaus’s permanent sound installation at Dia Beacon as being highly influential for how he conceived of his first intervention in the museum.

“I had to understand what this cat did, to do something that my generation would understand and resonate with,” he told Hyperallergic.

Installation view of Carl Craig: Party/After-Party at Dia Beacon, Beacon, New York, 2020 (© Carl Craig; photo by Bill Jacobson Studio, courtesy Dia Art Foundation, New York)

As much as it can be discussed in relation to sound art, Minimalism, and even the Light and Space Movement, Party/After-Party is a celebration of underground electronic music and the sense of solidarity and freedom that it offered to, in large part, Black and queer communities. To cement this link, the show will feature three evenings of musical performance, featuring Craig and friends, collaborators, and associates, including DJ Holographic, King Britt, Moritz von Oswald, Kenny Larkin, and others.

Electronic music has undoubtedly entered the mainstream, and although Craig may be partly responsible for its wide acceptance, he hopes Party/After-Party can offer a taste of its more radical potential. “I’ve always thought of what I do as art, not a commodity,” he says. “When people give me a tip, I say, ‘I already got paid.’ If I take your tip, you expect me to play your favorite songs, and that’s not happening.”

“I want people to have the possibility to connect with their spirit,” he continued. “To have that spiritual experience, to walk to the center when the light comes on at the sweet spot.”

Matt Stromberg

Matt Stromberg is a freelance visual arts writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Hyperallergic, he has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, CARLA, Apollo, ARTNews, and other publications.

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