BY Marko Gluhaich in Features | 09 DEC 21

Stories We Missed: Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s Love Songs

In two exhibitions in New York and Berlin, Wu Tsang documents the musician improvising arias and discussing love and spirituality with his wife Elizabeth

M
BY Marko Gluhaich in Features | 09 DEC 21

‘Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s Love Songs’ is part of a series of short essays on the events and trends we missed in our coverage of art and culture in 2021. Read more – and last year’s stories – here.

The songs on Keyboard Fantasies (1986), Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s masterful third studio album, layer mellifluous synthesizers with his delicate, prayerful tenor voice. The lyric of the opening track, ‘Ever New’, begins: ‘Welcome the spring, the summer rain.’ What follows is an opus on regeneration from an artist whose music, until very recently, had been woefully overlooked.

This year, however, Glenn-Copeland was the subject of two exhibitions by the artist Wu Tsang: the first in the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum in New York; the second, scaled down, at Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi in Berlin. Both include two videos of Glenn-Copeland: one of him singing and playing piano and drums; the other an interview with him and his wife, Elizabeth. At the Guggenheim, the former was projected onto a massive transparent curtain hung from the museum’s oculus, its fabric undulating like a river cascading down the rotunda, illuminated by the blue glow of the film’s background and Glenn-Copeland’s azure suit jacket. In the second video of the installation, titled ∞ (2021), Glenn-Copeland speaks of an energy that ‘is coming through all of us’ from which he receives his songs. You can see this as he sings – eyes closed, hands raised – his improvised aria playing throughout the museum in an astral echo reminiscent of both jazz and glossolalia.

beverly-glenn-copeland-2021
Wu Tsang, Anthem, 2021, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin. Photo: Graysc.

While the installation and Glenn-Copeland’s voice drew out the cathedral-like qualities of the Guggenheim Museum, this effect didn’t translate when the work was projected in Bortolozzi’s smaller space. Here, the singer’s voice took on a new timbre: less that of a preacher booming through the congregation, more of a single churchgoer alone in prayer. By screening ∞ on the same scale in an adjoining room, rather than playing second fiddle to the main event, visitors were better able to see how the two films interact. At Bortolozzi, I was more taken by the conversation between Glenn-Copeland and his wife, which focused on their relationship, with brief performative actions between the two of them occasionally interjecting. One that stuck with me had the pair, eyes closed, lift their hands from their sides and reach out towards one another and find each other without knowing where they were. Glenn-Copeland’s gesture mirrored the one he made while singing, which in this new context, suggested that, when reaching out to that empty space beyond the frame, he was reaching out towards Elizabeth.

Despite spending more time in Berlin with ∞ than I did with Anthem, I never completely lost Glenn-Copeland: his voice whispered in the background while I listened as he and his wife discussed their history and love more generally. Elizabeth spoke about how, before they were coupled, she asked Glenn-Copeland to hold her from behind, like he did in a dream she had recently had of him: ‘And he did, and that was it.’ Glenn-Copeland responds: ‘When I held her in that position, what happened was I felt like, all of a sudden, whatever had been missing in my being, in the body, in my body itself, had now come into that body.’ The Berlin iteration of Tsang’s show is titled ‘Lovesong’ to reflect the intimacy of the space.

beverly-glenn-copeland-2021
Wu Tsang, Anthem, 2021, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin. Photo: Graysc.

Glenn-Copeland started recording music in the late 1960s, but it wasn’t until 2015 that people began listening. While living in rural Canada with Elizabeth, Glenn-Copeland was approached by a record collector in Japan for copies of Keyboard Fantasies. Through word of mouth, demand for his records grew and, within a year, record companies caught on and Keyboard Fantasies was reissued. Now, after so many years in which virtually no one heard his music, Glenn-Copeland is also the subject of a 2019 documentary directed by Posy Dixon, titled after the album, and his back catalogue is in the process of being remastered and re-released by Transgressive Records.

In an online interview with the Guggenheim in August, Tsang recalls hearing Glenn-Copeland’s music for the first time and how it conjured a world in which she wanted to live. The musician’s own words from ∞ best describe, I think, how we can reach that world: ‘I really believe that there is an energy, and it could be coming from Mother herself, or whatever. But it’s coming through all of us, right? So, it’s not like it’s my vision. It’s not about that. It’s about the vision, right, that Mother has for us all. And are we willing to make ourselves available for that?’

Main Image: Wu Tsang, , 2021. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin; Photograph: Graysc

Marko Gluhaich is associate editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.

SHARE THIS