Charlemagne Palestine (b. 1947, Brooklyn, New York), best known for his avant-garde and experimental music compositions beginning in the 1960s, has been incorporating bears and other plush toys into his installations and performances for decades. The plush toys—either hand-made by the artist or found—will be installed in the Museum’s Kaplan gallery’s floor and walls, suspended from the ceiling, and perched on pedestals. The exhibition—replete with mirrors, colorful textiles, and lights—will feature hundreds of teddy bears, which the artist regards as shamanic representations of the soul, and the artist’s life-sized conjoined triplet bears and a work titled “Noah’s Ark,” a repurposed rowboat filled to the brim with stuffed toys. Visitors to Charlemagne Palestine’s “meshugahland,” or “crazy land,” will also hear the artist’s experimental sound recordings.
The teddy bear’s invention in 1902 by an immigrant couple in the same Brooklyn neighborhood where Palestine was born has become a near obsession for the artist. The first bear was hand sewn by Morris and Rose Michtom as a tribute to President Theodore Roosevelt following his much publicized hunting trip during which he refused to shoot a bear cub that had been readied for his aim. The incident was popularized by the prominent illustrator Clifford Berryman’s cartoons in the Washington Post. The Michtoms, along with the rest of America, became fascinated by the story and thus dubbed the newly invented toy “Teddy’s bear.” The bear’s invention quickly became a commercial and media success.
Now based in Brussels, Belgium, Charlemagne Palestine (born Chaim Moshe Tzadik Palestine) was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Eastern European immigrant parents. He began exploring music and performance at a young age singing in a synagogue choir and ringing carillon bells at St. Thomas Church in Manhattan. From there he began to explore the world of experimental sound, performance, and installation. His compositions are steeped in the rituals of various non-Western cultures, post-minimal music, and Eastern European sources. He was involved with the New York avant-garde in the 1960s and 1970s, collaborating with artists such as experimental filmmaker and musician Tony Conrad and choreographer Simone Forti before moving to Europe permanently in the 1980s. During the last decade he has created immersive installations mainly in European institutions, including recent projects at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam and Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna.