John Cage's 'Speech' At Santa Monica’s Merry-Go-Round

Jonathan Hepfer, Director of Monday Evening Concerts, introduces his immersive musical performance as part of Frieze Projects: Against the Edge

in Frieze Los Angeles , Interviews , Videos | 22 FEB 23
Join Frieze Become a member to watch this video and gain unlimited access to

Introductory Text by Jay Ezra Nayssan, curator of Frieze Projects: Against the Edge

In 1955, a young curator by the name of Walter Hopps organized his first major group exhibition titled Action in the Santa Monica Pier’s Merry-Go-Round building. Hopps, in fact, had been spending quite a bit of time on the Westside of los Angeles, running Syndell Studio with Jim Newman, Craig Kauffman, Michael Scoles and Ben and Betty Bartosh in Brentwood at 11756 Gorham Ave. After attempting to mount the group show in a Hollywood supermarket on Sunset Boulevard and then Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House at Barnsdall Park as well as other city owned parks and venues, Hopps settled on the Merry-Go-Round building at the Santa Monica Pier, renting it for $80 a week. Apparently, the City of Santa Monica had been much more welcoming to the idea of a contemporary art exhibition in one of its public venues than the City of Los Angeles. 

Hopps wrapped the carousel in fabric and suspended paintings by a number of California abstract painters including Sonia Gechtoff, Craig Kauffman, Jay DeFeo, and Richard Diebenkorn, to name a few. Hopps included a musical component to the exhibition, recorded jazz music, the carousel’s soundtrack, and his own renditions of works by John Cage. 

It was his choice to accompany the exhibition with music which I found most interesting. Hopps was passionate about jazz in particular. So, when I was attempting to find a setlist of music Hopps might have played at Action, I thought to contact Jonathan Hepfer, Artistic Director of Monday Evening Concerts (MEC). 

MEC was founded in 1939 as “Evenings on the Roof” by Peter Yates, music critic for Arts & Architecture magazine, and his wife Frances Mullen, when they began to host Sunday evening concerts in the Schindler-designed rooftop studio of their home at 1735 Micheltorena Street in Silverlake. Eighty-four years later, MEC has continued to build upon its history of presenting contemporary music concerts throughout Los Angeles. The program at Peter and Frances’s home was originally intended to provide displaced European emigres such as Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg with a platform to perform challenging works, and would eventually grow to welcome distinguished performers such as John Cage, Leonard Stein and Sol Babitz. Coincidentally, Hopps would later have an affair with Babitz’s daughter, Eve. When Hopps didn’t invite Eve to the 1963 Duchamp retrospective he curated at the Pasadena Art Museum, she slighted him a few days later by sitting for a photograph playing chess with Marcel Duchamp, nude. 

Jonathan and I never found the setlist that Hopps played at Action, so instead I asked him if he wanted to think of a program of music to play in homage to Hopps’s exhibition as part of Against the Edge. On Thursday, February 16th at 7:30 PM, Hepfer and a cast of notable figures from the worlds of visual art and music will perform John Cage’s Speech, composed the same year as the Hopps exhibition. The Cage work is a performance for five individuals, each holding a radio, and one newsreader. As the performance progresses, each performer is given the liberty to walk-around the room, or stay still, adjusting the volume and tuning into different radio stations. The result is a cacophonous and chaotic palimpsest of sound, spoken word, and news, replicating Against the Edge’s web of real, imagined, and mythic relationships through history. We’ve named the happening Action 3 (“Action cubed”) since Hopps would later curate a show titled Action 2 (“Action squared”) in 1956.

The performance for Frieze Los Angeles was also a part of Santa Monica Pier's 'Local's Night'.

Be the first to know when Frieze Los Angeles 2024 tickets go on sale, sign up to our newsletter and follow @friezeofficial on InstagramTwitter and Facebook.

Thumbnail image: Monday Evening Concerts Action 3 performed at the Merry-Go-Round Building at the Santa Monica Pier for ‘Frieze Projects: Against the Edge’ curated by Jay Ezra Nayssan for Frieze Los Angeles, 2023. Photo by Paul Salveson. Courtesy of Monday Evening Concerts and Frieze.