Soundings: A Contemporary Score
August 10–November 3, 2013
MoMA's first major exhibition of sound art presents work by 16 of the most innovative contemporary artists working with sound. While these artists approach sound from a variety of disciplinary angles—the visual arts, architecture, performance, computer programming, and music—they share an interest in working with, rather than against or independent of, material realities and environments. These artistic responses range from architectural interventions, to visualizations of otherwise inaudible sound, to an exploration of how sound ricochets within a gallery, to a range of field recordings—including echolocating bats, abandoned buildings in Chernobyl, 59 bells in New York City, and a sugar factory in Taiwan.
The diversity of these works reflects a complex and nuanced field. Yet the exhibition posits something specific: that how we listen determines what we hear. Indeed, the works provoke and evoke—both in the maker and the museumgoer—modes of active listening, and a heightened relationship between interior and exterior space. At a time when personal listening devices and tailored playlists have become ubiquitous, shared aural spaces are increasingly rare. Many of the artists in the exhibition aim for such realities, and the sound they create is decidedly social, immersing visitors and connecting them in space. In many of the works, links are drawn between disparate topographies and subjects, giving rise to new understanding and experiences.
The artists in the exhibition are Luke Fowler (Scottish, b. 1978), Toshiya Tsunoda (Japanese, b. 1964), Marco Fusinato (Australian, b. 1964), Richard Garet (Uruguayan, b. 1972), Florian Hecker (German, b. 1975), Christine Sun Kim (American, b. 1980), Jacob Kirkegaard (Danish, b. 1975), Haroon Mirza (British, b. 1977), Carsten Nicolai (German, b. 1965), Camille Norment (American, b. 1970), Tristan Perich (American, b. 1982), Susan Philipsz (Scottish, b. 1965), Sergei Tcherepnin (American, b. 1981), Hong-Kai Wang (Taiwanese, b. 1971), Jana Winderen (Norwegian, b. 1965), and Stephen Vitiello (American, b. 1964).
In Mirza’s installations, each element is reliant on and responsive to others and to the architecture of the site. Mirza refers to these as “self-governing” systems. Often these works appear familiar and slightly outdated, evocative of a 1990s rave, an early video game, or a living room. All of this is true in Frame for a Painting. Each iteration of the work includes a different painting, chosen from the collection of the venue where it is installed. Here, from MoMA’s collection, the artist has chosen Composition in Yellow, Blue, and White, I (1937), by Piet Mondrian. Mirza’s “framing” devices are many. Not only is the painting framed physically by LED lights synced to an electronic sound track, but conceptually it is recontextualized as an element in an installation dated 2012. Furthermore, it’s juxtaposed against a midcentury Danish side table and is installed in an exhibition pointedly addressing sound as such. Nonetheless, Mirza’s installation honors themes already evident in Mondrian’s painting—including the particularities of color, material, and rhythm—and ultimately underscores the pleasures and idiosyncrasies of sensory interplay.