Nov 8, 2023

Blank Forms 6th Annual Gala Honoring Charlemagne Palestine

On Wednesday, November 8th, Blank Forms presents its sixth annual benefit gala honoring visual artist, musician and composer Charlemagne Palestine. Please join us for cocktails, dinner, and special live performances. For more information, please contact Corinne Daniel at


Charlemagne Palestine’s multifaceted art, sound, and performance work has long been known for its sprawling, sacred heft, from the ethereal pentatonic pulsing of Strumming Music (Shandar, 1974) to Godbear, 1987, a massive, devotional sculpture of a three-headed teddy bear presented at documenta 8. His penchant for grandiosity has only become more pronounced as time wears on. In recent installations like the now-iconic “CCORNUUOORPHANOSSCCOPIAEE AANORPHANSSHHORNOFFPLENTYYY,” shown in 2018, at 356 Mission in Los Angeles, Palestine has taken to designing intricate arrangements of “divinities,” his affectionate term for the plush toys that he diligently collects. Beanie Babies, Mickey Mouses, Minions, and miscellaneous secondhand finds become opulent tapestries that frame monitors displaying his epochal body art videos from the ’70s. In such environments, Palestine wastes no space: he poses teddy bears as paratroopers lowered from the ceiling, hangs boats teeming with stuffed effigies, and drapes assemblages made from his trademark scarves, crowned by a pair of mischievous disco balls. In these works of the last decade, Palestine has increasingly mingled past with present, mundane with transcendent, creating a sort of sacrarium on wheels that enshrines his many curiosities, the twists and turns of his shape-shifting artistic career, and the abundance of contemporary visual culture. 

Perhaps more than any of his contemporaries in New York’s bustling downtown scene of the ’60s and ’70s, Palestine has embodied the notion of the artist as playful polymath, testing and transcending nearly every creative form imaginable in his more than six-decade career. Originally trained in Jewish sacred singing to be a cantor, he began his artistic life as a musician, studying piano and accordion, accompanying figures like Tiny Tim and Allen Ginsberg on percussion, using early synthesizers as an assistant to Alwin Nikolais, and eventually landing a long-running gig as the carillonneur at St. Thomas Episcopal in midtown. This libertine spirit of experimentation soon led to adventures in other aesthetic arenas: making kinetic light sculptures with Len Lye, devising choreographed performances with Simone Forti, and producing over a dozen visceral videotapes produced and distributed through CastelliSonnabend. In the ’70s, he was particularly prominent in the burgeoning loft movement, becoming well known for his sparse, intense, and exacting long-form piano concerts and his unique “strumming” playing style, manipulating the instrument’s natural overtones. 

Across all of these endeavors, Palestine has been especially attuned to spiritual matters—trance-like states and the animistic flow of intangible energies. As a college student, he studied with the poet Jerome Rothenberg, who exposed him to a wide world of cross-cultural ritual, a passion that persisted into the ’80s when Palestine founded the Ethnology Cinema Project, an outfit dedicated to preserving filmed documentation of rapidly disappearing sacred practices. His interest in totems and rites mirrors the relentlessly devotional attention he brings to his personal obsessions—stuffed animals, buoyant scarves and hats, cognac—that consistently poke their way into his ever-expanding body of installations, sculptures, performances, and archival releases. Palestine’s abiding interest in the tender boundaries between life, art, and the hidden world seems to seep into every facet of his work, always pointing to the sublimated sublime and the sneaky spirituality of everyday life.

It is with distinct honor that Blank Forms celebrates Palestine’s incredible career, as he has been a touchstone of our program since our founding. In 2017, we hosted his jubilant return to St. Thomas Episocal where he performed an elegy to his friend Tony Conrad, whom he first met at the church more than fifty years prior. On the occasion of this gala, we will reissue a recording of this piece on an LP backed with an ecstatic new work for carillon recorded at Palestine’s studio in Brussels. Blank Forms was founded to support and engage pathbreaking artists whose works defy disciplinary boundaries—and there are few examples as consistently confounding and inspiring as Charlemagne Palestine.