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Cross-Campus Picks: Milford Graves — A Mind-Body Deal

Display of and plants in foreground with manakins in background

This post marks the launch of a new Penn Libraries blog series, Cross-Campus Picks. This series offers book, music, and film recommendations to accompany exhibits and events taking place across the University of Pennsylvania.   

At the end of September, the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) reopened its doors to the public for an exhibition on the work of Milford Graves, presented by Ars Nova Workshop.

Graves is perhaps best known as a progressive jazz drummer, though categorizing him as a percussionist would be akin to labeling Benjamin Franklin a postmaster. Graves is a painter, a dancer, a mosaicist, a shaman, an acupuncturist, an herbalist, a former Police Athletic League boxing champion, a long-time professor at Bennington College, and the inventor of a martial art form called yara . He’s also a Guggenheim Fellow and a researcher; Graves has studied cardiac rhythms to explore the healing potentialities of music.

Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal runs through January 2021 and showcases original paintings, sculptures, photographs, scientific studies, and costumes. The exhibit also features a performance space, Graves’ customized drum sets, and archival recordings from his decades-long musical career.

Sculptural arrangement of anatomical models and wires
Photo credit: Constance Mensh, Institute of Contemporary Art.

“Milford's early work was a ‘secret door’ for me into the world of free jazz,” says exhibition curator and Artistic Director of Ars Nova, Mark Christman. “And although Ars Nova Workshop has provided me with so many mystical and magical experiences, I've never felt more embraced by the so-called 'avant garde' as when I met Professor Graves.” 

The ICA’s reopening and Graves’ polymathy inspired the launch of Cross-Campus Picks , a new series of Penn Libraries’ reading, listening, and watch lists to complement cross-campus exhibits and events.

“For us in academia,” says Eric Krewson, a Specialist at the Albrecht Music Library, “Graves is fascinating precisely because the scope of his work defies our notions of disciplinary specialization.”

Eileen Kelly, Head of Collection Management, agrees. “One of the exciting things about Milford Graves is that his work and passions are so wide-ranging that they touch on many areas of the Libraries’ collection,” she says. “We went down a rabbit hole in putting together this list.”

Below is the premiere installment of Cross-Campus Picks — an audio playlist and selection of readings as eclectic and wide-ranging as Graves himself.

Milford Graves: A Mind-Body-Library Deal

A selection of recordings featuring Milford Graves  


In which Milford Graves appears as an incarnation of Norman Mailer  

A selection of texts with pieces on Milford Graves

A selection of work by Milford Graves’ collaborators and influences

A selection of work pertaining to Milford Graves’ life and pursuits