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Jamal Cyrus
Texas Fried Tenor

Saturday, November 16, 2013
2:00 PM
14th Street Passage, On the High Line at West 14th Street
Free admission |  All ages | No RSVP Required

Houston-based artist Jamal Cyrus (b. 1973) produces revisionist approaches of American history in his work through the appropriation and subsequent reinterpretation of racially charged political paraphernalia and cultural objects.  In particular, Cyrus’s work focuses on the formulation of African American identity through cultural and political movements, such as the Jazz Age of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and its consequent appropriation by mainstream culture. In his performances, sculptures, drawings, and collages, Cyrus creates his own alternative account of African American history, causing the viewer to acknowledge the subjectivity of interpreting past events.

Presented on the High Line, Jamal Cyrus’s Texas Fried Tenor (2012) will create a dynamic, sensorial, and eclectic soundscape as Cyrus deep-fries a saxophone while reciting a poem based on the Texas tenor saxophone tradition. Though the symphony of the sizzling brass instrument mimics the improvisatory nature of blues and jazz music, the sound produced and magnified through microphones is quite alien. His choice to deep-fry the instrument also recalls the southern stereotype of a cuisine defined by fried foods.

This performance is part of a larger series by Cyrus, Learning to Work the Saxophone, which takes its name from the refrain of the Steely Dan song “Deacon Blues.” After listening to the song one thousand times on a road trip from Philadelphia to Houston, Cyrus became interested in the importance of the saxophone in American music, especially blues and jazz which are celebrated as America’s defining musical forms and yet originated from the African American community. In this context, the saxophone is not solely an instrument of artistic expression, but also one of cultural and political significance.

Photos by Liz Ligon

Jamal Cyrus

Jamal Cyrus (b. 1973, Texas) lives and works in Houston. Recent solo exhibitions include Bryan Miller Gallery, Houston (2011); Artpace, San Antonio (2010); and the Kitchen, New York (2009).  Notable group exhibitions and performances include Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (2012) [travelling to Grey Art Gallery, New York (2013) and Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2013 – 2014)]; Texas Prize Exhibition, Arthouse at the Jones Center, Austin (2012); After 1968:Contemporary Artists and the Civil Rights Legacy, High Museum of Art, Atlanta (2008) [travelling to Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C. (2008 – 2009) and California African American Museum, Los Angeles (2009 – 2010)]; and the Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night, Whitney Museum, New York (2006).

Program Partner

The performance of Texas Fried Tenor was organized by New York University’s Grey Art Gallery and The Studio Museum in Harlem as part of the New York debut of the exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art initially curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver for the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. This landmark exhibition approaches black performance from the perspective of the visual arts, beginning with the “happenings” of the early 1960s and into the contemporary practices of a new generation of artists. As a counterpart to the exhibition, the Grey Art Gallery and Studio Museum in Harlem paired with Performa 13, New York’s celebrated performance-art biennial (November 1 – 24, 2013), to produce a series of special performances, including Jamal Cyrus’s Texas Fried Tenor on the High Line.


High Line Art is presented by Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. High Line Art is made possible by Donald R. Mullen, Jr. and The Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston, with additional support from David Zwirner Gallery, and Vital Projects Fund, Inc. High Line Art is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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