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The Slugbearers of Kayrol Island, or the Friends of Dr. Rushower

A presentation of new work by either cartoonist Ben Katchor or musician Mark Mulcahy would be reason enough make the trek through the Berkshires to North Adams’ Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art; a collaboration between the two is more than reason enough—even if you’ve got to walk.

On Friday and Saturday, the duo will stage a work-in-progress version of their new “tragicomedy for music theater,” The Slugbearers of Kayrol Island, or the Friends of Dr. Rushower. Typical of the work of Katchor (pictured)—whom The New York Times called “the most poetic, deeply layered artist ever to draw a comic strip”—The Slugbearers plot is intricate and fablelike: The Slugbearers are stevedores paid to lug lead weights from the docks to the inland rail of Kayrol Island; public knowledge of the workers’ dire condition is spreading slowly through the media. So, in an attempt to lighten the metaphorical load of these exploited laborers, a missionary expedition ventures to Kayrol Island to introduce consumer fiction, the so-called poetry of the modern instructional pamphlet, to the Slugbearers in hopes that it will help justify their toil. The mission is doomed to failure, though individual members of the entourage find happiness in unexpected ways.

Mulcahy—who once fronted the well-loved Miracle Legion and has received plenty of favorable press as a solo act—composed the songs for The Slugbearers, and will perform in the show as a singer and musician (he’s also the producer of the work, for those of you keeping score).

Ben Katchor’s and Mark Mulcahy’s The Slugbearers of Kayrol Island will be performed at MASS MoCA (1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.) on Friday and Saturday (Jan. 17 and 18). Tickets for the 7:30 PM shows are $12 (members will receive a 10-percent discount). For more information, call (413) 662-2111.

Yo-Yo Ma, Albany Symphony Orchestra

Phase One of the Palace Theatre’s renovations is now complete, and the city of Albany wants to show off the spiffy paint job and cushy new seats in a spectacular fashion. Enter Yo-Yo Ma, Grammy-winning cellist, inarguably one of the most famous classical musicians on the planet. Ma will join conductor David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony Orchestra for tonight’s gala celebration.

Yo-Yo Ma, with the Albany Symphony Orchestra, will perform tonight (Thursday, Jan. 16) at 7:30 PM at the Palace Theatre (19 Clinton Ave., Albany). Tickets are $74.50 and $61.50. Call 465-4663 for reservations and information.

Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress

Beginning Saturday, Skidmore College’s Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery will present a major exhibition of works by the celebrated artist Kara Walker. Jointly presented by the Tang Museum and Williams College Museum of Art, the show will feature Walker’s controversial, transgressive images—images that present disturbing, violent and sexually charged views of slave life in the antebellum South. Using the 19th-century technique of cut-paper silhouettes, Walker creates visual narratives, or what she calls “melodramas,” that challenge racial stereotypes and audience expectations. As she told the Boston Globe, “The idea that African-American art can only be noble, appealing and beautiful does not sit well with me. I have always been drawn to art that was unsettling for me.”

Walker is only 32, and her rise in the art world has been nothing short of meteoric. She was awarded a MacArthur Foundation genius grant at 27, her work was featured in the 1997 Whitney Biennial, and she represented the United States at Brazil’s 2002 Sao Paulo Bienal. Born in Stockton, Calif., Walker moved with her family to Georgia at age 13. This change in setting from multicultural California to the Deep South had a profound effect on her. As she told an interviewer from the Museum of Modern Art: “Blackness became a very loaded subject, a very loaded thing to be—all about forbidden passions and desires, and all about a history that’s still living, very present . . . the shame of the South and the shame of the South’s past; its legacy and its contemporary troubles. Race issues are always at the heart of these matters.”

Walker is most widely known for her paper cutout silhouettes (such as Fixin’, Pitted, Fished, Pitied, 1995, pictured), but this comprehensive exhibition covers all aspects of her career. Watercolors, drawings, a new installation piece and a large mural—the 50-foot-long Gone, an Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart—which has not been on public view since its 1994 New York gallery debut.

The exhibit will open at the Tang Museum (Skidmore College, 815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs) on Saturday (Jan. 18) and run until June 1. There will be an opening public reception on Feb. 1 from 6:30 to 8 PM. Related events include Walker’s visiting-artist lecture on Jan. 31 at 5:30 PM, and a panel discussion with cultural critic Michele Wallace and Skidmore faculty on April 10 at 7 PM. For more information, call 580-8080.

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