A focus on the work of the jazz pianist, composer, and interdisciplinary artist Jason Moran (US, b. 1975) led to a multipart presentation that included commissions, an exhibition with a national tour and catalogue, a series of concerts, a large-scale performance premiere, and support for the artist’s new digital publication on jazz culture. Moran’s experimental approach to art-making embraces the intersections of objects and sound, pushing beyond the traditional staged concert or sculpture and drawing to amplify ways that both are inherently theatrical. The Walker-organized Jason Moran, the artist’s first museum exhibition (April 26–August 26, 2018), featured the range of work Moran has explored, his collaborations with visual artists (including Stan Douglas, Theaster Gates, Joan Jonas, Adrian Piper, and Kara Walker), and his “set” sculptures—homages to iconic jazz venues from the 1920s to the 1970s that also double as stages, or sets, for concerts.
A series of in-gallery performances were presented during the run of the show within Moran’s STAGED: Slugs’ Saloon (2018), a sculptural installation that memorializes the iconic New York jazz club Slugs’ Saloon (operating from 1964–1972). Acquired for the Walker’s collection, the work will continue to be used as a stage for concerts, with musicians invited to perform at the artist’s discretion during his lifetime and afterward, according to determined guidelines. In conjunction with the exhibition, The Last Jazz Fest premiered in the Walker’s McGuire Theater, featuring Moran and his trio the Bandwagon, Taurus Mateen and Nasheet Waits; visual artists Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch; and Ashland Mines (DJ Total Freedom) (May 18–19, 2018). The Walker-commissioned performance examined various ways that jazz functions—as freedom music, as a model for democracy, and as a prop—while championing Moran’s collaborative impulse. In addition, the inaugural issue of Moran’s music publication LOOP (2016) is now hosted in digital form on the Walker Reader, in cooperation with the artist and Luhring Augustine. The magazine looks at jazz culture from an African American perspective, featuring the voices of the artist, his friends, family, and his many collaborators.