Solange “An Ode To”, An Evening At The Guggenheim — Reviewed
By Eish Sumra
When Solange tells you to leave work early and head to the Guggenheim in all-white attire, you do it. That was the order of the day Thursday, when the Knowles sister took over the iconic New York museum located in the heart of the Upper East Side, an area of New York as famous for its white bourgeoisie get-up as it is for its frequency in Gossip Girl. Yet, here, in a museum opened by Solomon R. Guggenheim — who was educated in European art and began his career displaying art in his apartment in the famously wealthy Plaza hotel, a southern black girl stood, the art world at her feet. Subversive at its core, what began with a simple, military styled walk down the spiral staircase that hugs the Guggenheim’s famous rotunda, turned into an hour of creative genius. When Solange ended the hour long visual and sonic escape, she said “We built this shit”. How right she was.
I walked in, phone confiscated by officials, with the artist demanding everyone’s undivided attention. As I sat on the marble floor in front of the staging area, it became clear how different this show was. The interior of the museum had barely been altered, the whole point of what was to happen was for Solange to take over the space with her own music and movement.
Many had come to watch this spectacle unfold, like The XX, Zoe Kravitz, Questlove (who defied the dress code) and Bjork. The artistic community of the world was watching this young creator adapt her body of work from the acclaimed “A Seat At The Table,” possibly one of 2016’s best, and most needed records. She went from being Beyonce’s baby sister, to a legendary artist in her own right.
She began the performance, descending down the spiral walkway in a camel colored tank top and sweatpants, preceded and succeeded by other black women. Her colorful band stood at the base of the museum, triumphantly blaring their horns and drums until the eight or so dancers took their positions on the ground floor. And so began “Rise” — and our all white attire made sense, she was trying to make everyone but her, her band and backing singers blend into the building’s monochrome architecture. After "Rise," she sang “Weary” and “Crane’s in the Sky” — beautifully adhering to the flow and structure of her record. Her vocals on point, she rarely veered from the album versions, something that pleased the fans.
Then came “Mad,” a song that felt further heightened by the political events that had unfolded that day. She screamed and squealed with her band, releasing the angst and anguish that I’m sure many in the audience were feeling about the world. It was both art and therapy.
She then moved quickly into "FUBU (For Us, By Us)," where she came into the seated audience and sang to black men, feeding off their energy and movement. It was Solange at her most free, her most uninhibited and her most fun.
She ended the show with "Don’t Touch My Hair" and a reprise of "Rise," where the audience were instructed to do just that. She sashayed and fizzed around what would normally be a reception area, it was clear she had thrown a lot into this interdisciplinary performance. She wanted to break boundaries and redefine the art of the show. From the use of the walkway for dancers, to the clever inclusion of horn players on every floor of the building who revealed themselves at surprising moments — the building was put to better use than any art display could do. She looked into the faces of all who were watching and used that to fuel some kinetic energy inside her bones. Her grace, her vitality and ambition were on full display. It was intimate assessment of a record that continues to inspire and enlighten.
It was the closest thing to a religious experience you can get in New York. It was both minimalist and expansionary. One thing was clear, while she may live in the shadow of her sibling, Solange is a visionary in her own right.
The only sad thing about the evening? Her album feels like an understatement now. The show amplified "A Seat at The Table" to an unbelievable height and with it went the artist who is no longer the underdog of the Knowles family.