Artists Space

Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency

October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022

Artists Space, in collaboration with Mark Christman and Ars Nova Workshop, is pleased to present Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency, a multiform retrospective exhibition and event series dedicated to the life and work of interdisciplinary artist and percussionist Milford Graves.

A black-and-white image of a man sitting on his knees with two African drums placed in front of him. His head looks downward while his left-hand hovers above the drums. His right hand firmly holds the side of a shaker instrument.
Portrait of Milford Graves, New York, c. 1987. Photo: Lona Foote. Courtesy the Photo Estate of Lona Foote [A black-and-white image of a man sitting on his knees with two African drums placed in front of him. His head looks downward while his left-hand hovers above the drums. His right hand firmly holds the side of a shaker instrument.]

An innovative and revolutionary force in radical music making since the mid-1960s, Graves transformed the role of drumming in jazz, introducing a new way of dealing with unmetered time and proclaiming that the drummer was not simply a beat-keeper but rather a dynamic and influential improviser. Instrumental in the Free Jazz movement, Graves is known as a key member of the notable ensemble New York Art Quartet, and worked alongside the likes of Amiri Baraka and Albert Ayler. He is also known for his famed collaboration with pianist Don Pullen and his work with the Japanese avant-garde musicians Toshi Tsuchitori and Kaoru Abe, further underscoring the breadth of his collaborative experiments and influence on music, which extended across the United States to Europe and Japan, among other locations.

A true polymath, Graves transformed his family home in Jamaica, Queens into a laboratory for his varied interests. In his basement, Graves trained and practiced as a cardiac technician to understand the connection between drum rhythms and the heartbeat and its healing properties; he invented a martial art form called Yara drawing upon the movements of the praying mantis and practiced the art form with musicians, students, and community members in his dojo; he was also a skilled botanist and herbalist with a community garden; and for decades, a dedicated and highly influential professor at Bennington College. Exploring cosmic relationships between rhythms and the universe—through movement, music, spiritualism, and the study of human anatomy—Graves embraced an expansive and holistic approach to sound that reads like an intellectual guide for how to push the boundaries of art and performance.

This comprehensive retrospective extends and expands the important work of last year’s Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal at ICA Philadelphia. Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency includes extensive film and photographic documentation of Graves’ live performances, rare ephemera tracing both his solo appearances and dynamic collaborations, a collection of Graves’ hand-painted album covers and a comprehensive display of his musical output, his highly decorated drum set and percussion instruments, costumes and elements from his home including documentation and material related to Yara and traces of his scientific studies, multimedia sculptures, and both archival recordings and new live performances by his collaborators and acolytes presented at Artists Space and on the exhibition’s website. In its organization, Fundamental Frequency will critically trace the holistically interrelated aspects of the artist’s work and his relationships and significant network of collaborators: from Albert Ayler to Min Tanaka to Andrew Cyrille to Giuseppi Logan among others, foregrounding his radical approach to experimental music.


Click on the blue box below to visit a special website documenting various threads of Milford Graves’ practice, which will unfold as a series of chapters released every two weeks beginning November 10th. Separated into five different categories—Heart Music, Acupuncture, Japan, Garden, and Yara—the pages function as a space to explore rare archival images, videos, newly commissioned texts, as well as a portal to view live events that will take place at 11 Cortlandt Alley and online.

December 5, 2021

A Memorial for Milford Graves
Memorial
3pm

December 15, 2021

Shahzad Ismaily
Performance
6:30pm

January 15, 2022

Yuji Agematsu: Chasing Milford
Performance
1pm-4pm

A color photograph of a a punching bag, other boxing equipment, and a sculpture of a human figure suspended from a rectangular wooden panel. In the background, three television monitors are stacked in a column, each playing a color video of figures in movement.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view (Yara Training Bag, c. 1990; Three Monitors with Yara Videos, c. 1980s and 90s), Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of a a punching bag, other boxing equipment, and a sculpture of a human figure suspended from a rectangular wooden panel. In the background, three television monitors are stacked in a column, each playing a color video of figures in movement.]
A color photograph of a red punching bag, other boxing equipment, and a human statue suspended from a rectangular wooden frame in a gallery space.
Milford Graves, Yara Training Bag, c. 1990. Wood, punching bags, hand-painted boxing gloves, springs, samurai sword, rubber balls, acupuncture model, tape,metal fixtures, athletic socks, rope. Dimensions variable. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of a red punching bag, other boxing equipment, and a human statue suspended from a rectangular wooden frame in a gallery space.]
A color installation view of a gallery space. Several handpainted LPs line the left wall. A television monitor is visible in the back corner with two chairs in front. A red tunic hangs above the monitor.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view, Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color installation view of a gallery space. Several handpainted LPs line the left wall. A television monitor is visible in the back corner with two chairs in front. A red tunic hangs above the monitor.]
A color installation photograph of a hand painted LP in a glass frame and a small photograph in a plastic bag in a gallery space.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view (Hand painted LP, 1966; Photograph of Milford Graves and Don Pullen, c. 1970s), Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color installation photograph of a hand painted LP in a glass frame and a small photograph in a plastic bag in a gallery space.]
A color photograph of three handpainted LPs in a wall mounted vitrine.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view (handpainted LPs, 1966), Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of three handpainted LPs in a wall mounted vitrine.]
A color installation view of a gallery space with six glass vitrines positioned around four metal colums. A drum set and television monitor are also visible in the space.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view, Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color installation view of a gallery space with six glass vitrines positioned around four metal colums. A drum set and television monitor are also visible in the space.]
A color photograph of a glass vitrine containing a record cover, several photographs, and other ephemera.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view (ephemera c. 1960s), Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of a glass vitrine containing a record cover, several photographs, and other ephemera.]
A color photograph of a vitrine containing ephemeral material, including pamphlets, photographs, and a blue flyer.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view (ephemera c. 1965-1987), Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of a vitrine containing ephemeral material, including pamphlets, photographs, and a blue flyer.]
A color photograph of a red poster with three faces and Japanese captions. The poster is beneath other ephemeral material, including an open book, a pamphlet, and a black and white photograph.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view (ephemera c. 1980-1998), Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of a red poster with three faces and Japanese captions. The poster is beneath other ephemeral material, including an open book, a pamphlet, and a black and white photograph.]
A color installation view of a gallery space. A poster with a drawing of a human body hangs on the left, a television monitor with two chairs is in the center of the image. Above the monitor, a red tunic hangs from the wall.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view, Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color installation view of a gallery space. A poster with a drawing of a human body hangs on the left, a television monitor with two chairs is in the center of the image. Above the monitor, a red tunic hangs from the wall.]
A color installation photograph of a gallery space, a painted wooden chair with an asymmetrical back is visible in the foreground. In the left background, two framed drawings hang from the wall.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view (Chair, 1989; Untitled drawings, 2020), Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 8, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color installation photograph of a gallery space, a painted wooden chair with an asymmetrical back is visible in the foreground. In the left background, two framed drawings hang from the wall.]
A color installation photograph of a gallery space with a painted drum set, a hanging gong. A television monitor is placed on the floor to the right with several LP covers hanging above.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view, Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color installation photograph of a gallery space with a painted drum set, a hanging gong. A television monitor is placed on the floor to the right with several LP covers hanging above.]
A color photograph of a hand painted drumset in a gallery space. A circular gong hangs above, and a painting done on a wooden panel is attached to the wall in the background.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view (Hand-painted Drums, c.1970s; Earth Resonance, 2020; Untitled painting, c. 1980s), Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of a hand painted drumset in a gallery space. A circular gong hangs above, and a painting done on a wooden panel is attached to the wall in the background.]
An aerial view of a hand painted drumset on a wooden floor.
Milford Graves, Hand-painted Drums, c. 1970s. Wood and metal bass drums, toms, snares, acrylic paint, and mixed media. Dimensions variable. Photo: Filip Wolak. [An aerial view of a hand painted drumset on a wooden floor.]
A color installation photograph of a gallery space. Three costumes hang from the left wall, a video is projected on a white wall in the background alongside a mixed-media sculpture. Two glass vitrines are visible in the foreground.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view, Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color installation photograph of a gallery space. Three costumes hang from the left wall, a video is projected on a white wall in the background alongside a mixed-media sculpture. Two glass vitrines are visible in the foreground.]
A color photograph of a white framed vitrine containing ephemera such as newsprint and several photographs.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view (ephemera from FESTAC, c. 1977), Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of a white framed vitrine containing ephemera such as newsprint and several photographs.]
A color installation photograph of a gallery with two sculptures visible. The sculpture closer to the camera features an anatomical sculpture of a human body and hand, several wires, and a small water wheel. In the background, a punching bag and other boxing equipment are suspended from a rectangular wooden frame.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view (Pathways of Infinite Possibilities: Yara, 2017; Yara Training Bag, c. 1990), Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color installation photograph of a gallery with two sculptures visible. The sculpture closer to the camera features an anatomical sculpture of a human body and hand, several wires, and a small water wheel. In the background, a punching bag and other boxing equipment are suspended from a rectangular wooden frame.]
A color installation photograph of a gallery. Several dark metal columns line the left side of the space, and on the right a punching bag and other boxing equipment hang from a rectangular wooden frame. In the background, several more mixed-media sculptures are visible.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view, Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color installation photograph of a gallery. Several dark metal columns line the left side of the space, and on the right a punching bag and other boxing equipment hang from a rectangular wooden frame. In the background, several more mixed-media sculptures are visible.]
A color installation view of a gallery space. On the left wall are six black and white photographs and a television monitor positioned on the floor. In the background, another wall-mounted television monitor is visible along with a large wall hanging and two sculptures. The space is bisected by three dark columns.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view, Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Image courtesy Artists Space, New York. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color installation view of a gallery space. On the left wall are six black and white photographs and a television monitor positioned on the floor. In the background, another wall-mounted television monitor is visible along with a large wall hanging and two sculptures. The space is bisected by three dark columns.]
A color photograph of four sculptures mounted on wooden pedastals. The sculptures are connected by copper netting and are composed of objects including a model of a human head, a plasma globe, a drum, lights, and wires.
Milford Graves, Cosmos 2 - 5, 2020. Wood, copper netting, hand-painted drum, lights, metal, casters, acupuncture head, figurines, artifact, turntable, printed label, metal, glue, copper netting tubing, hand-painted drum, plasma globe, tree branch, model brain, lights, printed label, stones, transducer, amplifier, wires, wooden crate, metal bracket, anatomical model, copper pipe, outdoor house lamp, transducer, amplifier, printed label. Dimensions variable. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of four sculptures mounted on wooden pedastals. The sculptures are connected by copper netting and are composed of objects including a model of a human head, a plasma globe, a drum, lights, and wires.]
A color installation photograph of a gallery space. A collage hangs from the wall on the right, and two mixed-media sculptures are visible in the background along with a wall hanging.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view, Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color installation photograph of a gallery space. A collage hangs from the wall on the right, and two mixed-media sculptures are visible in the background along with a wall hanging.]
A color installation photograph of two sculptures in a gallery space. The sculpture closer to the camera is composed of a human skeleton, and anatomical models of human heads, a brain, and a spine. The sculpture in the background features several monitors, and is topped by a sculpture of an eagle in mid-flight.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view, Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color installation photograph of two sculptures in a gallery space. The sculpture closer to the camera is composed of a human skeleton, and anatomical models of human heads, a brain, and a spine. The sculpture in the background features several monitors, and is topped by a sculpture of an eagle in mid-flight.]
A color photograph of a sculpture composed of a skeleton, monitors, several wires, and anatomical models of a human body, brain, and spine.
Milford Graves, Pathways of Infinite Possibilities: Skeleton, 2017. Human skeleton, steel pipe, wires, stickers, medical ear, model, dundun (talking drum), preserved heart, stethoscope, video monitor, transducer, amplifier, wood, metal, printed, labels, marker, casters. Dimensions variable. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of a sculpture composed of a skeleton, monitors, several wires, and anatomical models of a human body, brain, and spine.]
A color photograph of a sculpture composed of three monitors, drums, a human figure sculpture, and topped by a small sculpture of an eagle in mid-flight.
Milford Graves, Bikongo-Ifá: Spirit of the Being, 2020. Wood, tabla, acupuncture model, bata drum, Nkondi figure, George Washington Carverbust, compass, glass, peanuts, LabVIEW animation, monitors, bells, plasma, lamp, globe, eagle figurine, alarm clock, collaged paper, printouts, copper wire, paint marker, metal fasteners, casters. Dimensions Variable. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of a sculpture composed of three monitors, drums, a human figure sculpture, and topped by a small sculpture of an eagle in mid-flight.]
A color photograph of a vitrine containing an EKG printout and several black and white photographs.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view (ephemera c. 1970s), Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of a vitrine containing an EKG printout and several black and white photographs.]
A color photograph of a mixed media collage with various drawings and handwritten text in a white frame.
Milford Graves, Untitled Drawing, 2020. Ink, Sharpie, acrylic paint, collage elements on paper. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of a mixed media collage with various drawings and handwritten text in a white frame.]
A color photograph of a floorbound television monitor, showing a figure in a snow bank. Above is an annotated drawing of a human figure.
Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency. Installation view (Movements in the Snow, 1990, Herbal Chart, c. 1980), Artists Space, October 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022. Photo: Filip Wolak. [A color photograph of a floorbound television monitor, showing a figure in a snow bank. Above is an annotated drawing of a human figure.]

Milford Graves (1941-2021, Jamaica, Queens) was a percussionist, acupuncturist, herbalist, martial artist, programmer, and professor. A pioneer of Free Jazz, Graves was a member of the New York Art Quartet, whose iconic first recording in 1964 featured LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) reading his poem “Black Dada Nihilismus.” In 1967, he played at John Coltrane’s funeral. A consummate autodidact with a syncretic approach, Graves invented a martial art form called Yara based on the movements of the praying mantis, African ritual dance, and Lindy Hop in 1972. Shortly thereafter, Graves joined the Black Music Division at Bennington College, where he taught for 39 years. In 2000, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and began to study human heart vibrations to better understand music’s healing potential, and in 2015 he received the Doris Duke Foundation Impact Award. He is the subject of a critically acclaimed feature-length documentary, Milford Graves Full Mantis (2018), directed by his former student, Jake Meginsky, with Neil Young. Among his many notable recordings are In Concert At Yale University (with Don Pullen, 1966); Dialogue of the Drums (with Andrew Cyrille, 1974); Babi (1977); Meditation Among Us (1977); Real Deal (with David Murray, 1992); Grand Unification (1998); Beyond Quantum (with Anthony Braxton and William Parker, 2008); and Space/Time Redemption (with Bill Laswell, 2014).

For much help and guidance on this project, we thank Yuji Agematsu, Clifford Allen, Hilton Als, Dor Ben-Amotz, Bradford Bailey (The Hum), Doug Bendit, Olivier Berggruen, Dawoud Bey, Philip Bither, Karen Brookman, Jacqueline Caux, Cathleen Chaffee & Gabrielle Carlo (Albright Knox), Steve Clay, Shamus Clisset (Laumont), Geoff Cline, John Corbett, Andrew Cyrille, Bernard Drayton, Ntone Edjabe, Brent Hayes Edwards, Michael Ehlers, Marty Ehrlich, Jim Eigo, Anthony Elms (ICA), Douglas Ewart, The Photo Estate of Lona Foote, Iliya Fridman (Fridman Gallery), Chris Funkhouser, Peggy Gale, Miguel Abreu Gallery, Gladstone Gallery, Jesse Gelaznik, Jana Haimsohn, Laura Heffington, Alanna Heiss, Michael Heller, Shahzad Izmaily, Jenny Jaskey, Henry Kaiser, Dr. Kamau Kokayi, Satoshi Kondo & Allyson Spellacy (Fergus McCaffery), Laurie Kwasnik, Andrew Lampert, Alan Licht, Adam Lore, Owen Maercks, Howard Mandel, Mani Mazinani, Josiah McElheny, Sarah Michelson, Markus Mueller, Kyle McKeveny, Jake Meginsky, Thurston Moore, Jason Moran, Marilyn Nance, Aldon Nielsen, Aki Onda, William Parker, Jacob Perlin, Jon Pestoni, Sierra Pettengill, Jeff Preiss, Calvin Reid, Chris Reisman, Ed Rhodes, Eliza Ryan, Yuzo Sakuramoto, Bill Seery (Mercer Media), MM Serra (The Film-makers’ Cooperative), Thor Shannon & Marlene Zwirner (David Zwirner), James Sherry, Yoko Shioya & Emi Marica (Japan Society), Ming Smith, Tae Smith, Michael Snow, A.B. Spellman, Charlie Steiner, Juma Sultan, Tom Surgal, Min Tanaka & Rin Ishihara, Bjorn Thorstensson, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, Toshi Tsuchitori, Greg Wooten, Marvin X, Ben Young, Vida, and Martin Zimmermann

Lead Support for Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency is provided by the Robert D. Bielecki Foundation. Core Support is provided by Corbett vs. Dempsey, Martin & Rebecca Eisenberg, and Joe & Nancy Walker.

Program support for Artists Space is provided by The Friends of Artists Space, Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, The Cy Twombly Foundation, The David Teiger Foundation, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, Imperfect Family Foundation, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, The Willem de Kooning Foundation, The Danielson Foundation, The Fox Aarons Foundation, Herman Goldman Foundation, The Destina Foundation, The Luce Foundation, May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, VIA Art Fund, Arison Arts Foundation, The Chicago Community Fund, The David Rockefeller Fund, The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, The Jill and Peter Kraus Foundation, The Richard Pousette-Dart Foundation.