NEW YORK >> A kind of pagan spirituality threads its way through Solange Knowles’ music videos, and her followers have picked up on that.
“She’s a witch in the best possible way,” said Stephanie Griffin, a photographer, 26.
Massiel Cedeño, 23, a dealer in vintage and secondhand clothing, chimed in: “She is a priestess. You can see it in the way she leads.”
They were two in a racially diverse and mostly young crowd gathered outside the Guggenheim Museum on May 18 for a performance by Knowles. Like Griffin, who wore a swingy white Alexander Wang dress, Cedeño was turned out in white in deference to a dress code Knowles had imposed.
Not everyone was as reverent.
“She’s not perfect for sure,” said Morgan Powell, a 24-year-old arts fundraiser. But Powell was quick to tag on: “She’s what we all would like to be more of: elegant and articulate. She speaks for me when I can’t speak for myself.”
Knowles funnels a wealth of artistic and political inspirations — they include artists Mark Rothko and Robert Pruitt, and the memoir “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” by Charles Blow — into “A Seat at the Table,” her latest and most commercially successful album. Some of these worked their way into “An Ode To,” the installation and dance performance in the museum rotunda that is part of the Red Bull Music Academy Festival New York 2017, which ends Sunday.
At times, the event took on a mystical cast, Knowles and her troupe extending their arms toward the crowd in a kind of benediction. The effect was moving, the show itself museum-worthy. As Nat Trotman, the Guggenheim curator of performance and media, noted, it was part of a tradition that dates from the late 1960s, when Meredith Monk first performed in the rotunda.
True, Knowles “is coming out of a popular music landscape,” Trotman acknowledged. But in a series of earlier performances at the Pérez Art Museum Miami and the Menil Collection in Houston, among others, she has demonstrated a singular brand of artistry.
“She is creating music and installations as a way of highlighting race in America, in a pointed but also very positive way,” he said.
As to the all-white clothing worn by the artists and spectators alike, “My interpretation,” he said, “is that Solange wanted the audience to feel as much a part of the performance as possible.”
Her fans wore white for reasons of their own.
“It adds to the work and is relevant to the space,” Griffin said. “It shows a lot or respect for Solange and her vision.”
Smiling genially, she added, “Besides, we all look good.”