France Honors Laurie Anderson and Jay McInerney

France Honors Laurie Anderson and Jay McInerney

On October 10, 2017, artist Laurie Anderson and author Jay McInerney were awarded the insignia of Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres at a ceremony held at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. Cultural Counselor Bénédicte de Montlaur, who presided at the ceremony, highlighted Ms. Anderson and Mr. McInerney’s contributions to art, literature and culture in the United States, France, and around the world.

Photo credit: Gonzalo Marroquin for Patrick McMullan

Good evening!

As Cultural Counselor, it is my pleasure to welcome you here to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy to bestow the insignia of Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters upon both the renowned artist Laurie Anderson and acclaimed writer Jay McInerney.

In 1957, the Order of Arts and Letters was established by the French government to recognize distinguished artists and writers who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world.

Fittingly, tonight we are honoring two artists whose long careers have made invaluable contributions to American and French culture. Laurie Anderson’s work spans more than half a century and crosses mediums from sculpture to virtual reality. It would be nearly impossible to name all the songs, art pieces, books, films, exhibitions, and performances that she has composed and created. She is one of the most prolific artists of our time. Jay McInerney, over the course of his extensive career, has had tremendous success with a wide range of publications including articles, short stories, screenplays, and novels, such as Bright Lights, Big City, Ransom, Story of My Life, Brightness Falls, The Last of the Savages, and, most recently, Bright, Precious Days. Tonight, we are thrilled to present these two cultural icons with this award.

Laurie Anderson, I first turn to you:

At the forefront of the avant-garde art movements of the 1970s and 80s and currently paving the way in the realm of virtual reality, the question with you, Laurie Anderson, always seems to be, “what will you think of next?” You have challenged our conception of what music is, you have created new connections between visual art, music and performance, and you have helped to define a new relationship between art and popular culture. For those who know you well, you are a generous friend, resolutely kind and modest. You are also a deeply spiritual person who embraces the worldview “be awake and be aware” in both your work and your artistic practice.

So, Ms. Anderson—where to begin? In 1969, the same year that you graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard College, you orchestrated your first performance art piece and performed it at a drive-in bandshell in Vermont. After receiving your Master of Fine Arts degree at Columbia University in 1972 in sculpture, you went on to make your mark in the New York art world by performing at The Kitchen, in 1975.

Your work came out of, and contributed to a very important moment in the New York art scene, when artists were rethinking what art could be. In forging your career, you became part of a community of creative luminaries and brilliant individuals such as Philip Glass, Sol Lewitt, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark, and many others. In 1981, you were launched to fame by your single, “O Superman,” which reached the number two spot on the British charts and gained international attention. In 1986, you directed and starred in your concert film, Home of the Brave, which captured performances of the magnificent songs that you had been writing and recording up to that point.

As you ascended to fame, touring became a central part of your life. I’ve been told that you frequently travel alone and that you often travel with your entire collection of instruments. You have been described as a? “gracious and smiling snail” carrying your massive musical universe on your back from one place to the next.

Indeed, your career has always been characterized by this sense of fearlessness and a desire to explore unknown territories. In 2002, you began working as the first artist-in-residence at NASA, a residency which culminated in your solo performance work “The End of the Moon,” which you then toured solo in 2004. This is just one of many examples of your boundless, courageous creativity. Your work is unfailingly original and inventive. And yes, I mean literally inventive: you devised the tape-bow violin and designed the talking stick, two instruments which have contributed to the uniqueness of your art. Your music and performances combine poetry and technology, layer spoken word on entrancing sound, and fuse visual imagery with your striking voice.

Fearless independence has not kept you from fruitful collaborations with many artists. Indeed, collaboration seems to be at the very heart of your work and has taken many forms, from composing music for a piece by Robert Lepage to working with the team that created the opening ceremony for the 2004 Olympics.

You gained recognition in France when you collaborated with celebrated French artist Jean-Michel Jarre in 1984 as a featured vocalist in “Diva,” and more recently when you worked with him in 2015 on “Rely on Me.” In 2004, you composed the score for “O Zlozony/O Composite,” a ballet commissioned by the Opera Garnier in Paris and choreographed by Trisha Brown. In 2002, the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Lyon opened “The Record of Our Time,” an enormous exhibit in celebration of your work, confirming just how profoundly you had impacted the international community with your artistic insight. La Cité de la Musique in Paris opened a stunning exhibition celebrating your art in 2012. You made other significant contributions to the French artistic world, such as producing a series specifically for French radio called “Rien dans les Poches” or “Nothing in my Pockets.” You also contributed significantly to our local community when you so graciously participated in A Night of Philosophy and Ideas in 2017, a 12-hour event, co-presented by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the Brooklyn Public Library, featuring thinkers and artists from across the globe. We screened your 2015 film, “Heart of a Dog,” and you engaged with audiences in a deep discussion.

I would especially like to mention here your partnership with Lou Reed, a dynamic and powerful duo of two extraordinary artists. A close mutual friend described you as the most beautiful couple he had ever seen. You were in fact here with us at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy when Lou Reed was recognized as a Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters. To this day, you advance your shared mission to support the arts in your work on the Artistic Advisory Board of National Sawdust, a Brooklyn-based non-profit venue for artistic discovery, where, with other renowned artists like Philip Glass, and Brigitte Lacombe, you help emerging and established artists alike create and share their work.

You currently have on display at the MASS MoCA two virtual reality exhibits—“Chalkroom” and “Aloft”— that make up a part of the 10,000 square foot studio that the museum has set aside for your work for the next fifteen years.

Laurie Anderson, for your outstanding contributions to the art world through performance, art-making, writing, musical composition, filmmaking, and invention, it is my honor to present you with the Order of Arts and Letters.

Laurie Anderson, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Jay McInerney, let us now turn to you:

Considering your impressive list of novels and publications, it is no wonder that you are a household name for anyone interested in literature. Throughout the years, audiences have been captivated by your works, which chronicle the trials and adventures of life, love, ambition and youth in the big city, and have earned you a comparison to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

You have had a lifelong love of writing. Your interest was sparked in your childhood, when you began to write poetry and short stories. You went on to study philosophy at Williams College, and continued your education at Syracuse University, where you entered a creative writing program. As the years went by, you began your career as a writer, and in 1982, your first short story, entitled It’s 6 A.M., Do You Know Where You Are?, was published in the Paris Review. This story later became the basis for your best-selling first novel, Bright Lights, Big City.

After receiving rave reviews, the book was eventually adapted into a film starring Michael J. Fox and Keifer Sutherland, for which you wrote the screenplay. I should mention that you also showcased your screenplay writing skills in 1998 for the film Gia, starring Angelina Jolie.

Throughout the years, your career as a novelist continued to develop, and indeed, you were named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library in 1987 after the publication of your novels Ransom and Story of My Life. You continued to write books such as Brightness Falls, The Good Life, and Bright, Precious Days, a trilogy which has been chosen to be developed into a television series by Amazon Studios. The books have been highly successful; for instance, The Good Life was the winner of the Prix Littéraire Lucien Barrière at the 2007 Deauville American Film Festival in France, and became a New York Times Bestseller. The New York Times also reviewed your 2009 collection of short stories entitled How It Ended and critic Janet Maslin named it one of the best ten books of the year.

But of course, your achievements do not end there. You are renowned as a connoisseur of the finest wines in the world, and have written extensively on the subject. You have published countless articles and essays, as well as books such as The Juice, A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine, and Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar. You were also the wine columnist for House and Garden Magazine as well as the Wall Street Journal, and of course your research has taken you on many journeys throughout the wine regions of France. On your blog, you recall your travels with your “food mentor” and House and Garden co-worker Lora Zarubin, as you visit vineyards and taste the best wines that France has to offer.

You took a particular interest in the Burgundy region, once relaying to Epicurious Magazine that “Burgundy is the ultimate exemplar of the idea of terroir: that the place where the wine comes from is the ultimate determinant of how it tastes.” As a testament to your passion for Burgundy wines, you were inducted into the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a French society dedicated to promoting the wine and culture of Burgundy throughout the world. This demonstrates your notable influence in the world of wine, and your interest in sharing French culture.

And in fact, you have been recognized for your achievements several times by France. In 2011, you were selected to receive the Vermeil Medal of the City of Paris, a great honor presented by the city’s mayor.

I would like to take the time to thank you for your involvement here at the Cultural Services. In January of this year, you joined us to lead a discussion at our book shop, Albertine. We were thrilled to have you in conversation with French writer Frédéric Beigbeder, discussing the illustrated novel Manhattan Babe, the English translation of Beigbeder’s Oona & Salinger. It is always a pleasure to have authors such as you take part in our goal of fostering exchange and dialogue between France and the United States.

In addition to all of this, you enjoy promoting French culture in your spare time! On all of your social media pages, fans can find reviews of French restaurants, wine recommendations, and photos of your adventures in France, from Paris to Bordeaux and beyond. An avid traveler and bon vivant, you embody the best of the French joie de vivre, and share it with friends and admirers all over the world. We are glad to recognize your enthusiasm and passion.

In all of your achievements, you have engaged audiences with your excellent writing. You have published noteworthy novels, expert wine reviews, and much more. And throughout your writing career, you have placed French culture at the forefront of your interests and shared this appreciation with your readers. For these reasons, it is my great pleasure to present you with the Order of Arts and Letters.

Jay McInerney, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Photo credit: Gonzalo Marroquin for Patrick McMullan

Photo credit: Gonzalo Marroquin for Patrick McMullan

Photo credit: Gonzalo Marroquin for Patrick McMullan