Art You Can Listen to at the MoMA’s ‘Soundings’ Exhibition

Two women leaning into Tristan Perich’s Microtonal Wall, a 25-foot panel of 1,500 tiny speakers that hangs in the main hallway at the MoMA

It hardly needs saying, but the field of sound art is not the most mainstream of media, dominated over the decades by the atonal, the ambient, the discordant. So even though the Museum of Modern Art's first-ever major exhibition of sound art doesn't exactly break new ground for anyone familiar with genre, where 'Soundings: A Contemporary Score' DOES succeed is in presenting these occasionally elusive pieces in an easy-to-grasp, even crowd-pleasing manner.

Give it a little bit of patience, keep an open mind (or, at least, an open ear), and I think you'll find that MoMA's Soundings exhibition is both intellectually interesting as well flat-out fun.   

Richard Garet's Before Me Installation at the Soundings exhibition at the MoMA, in which a glass marble is stuck rolling in place on an old turntable

The Sound Art Installations to Explore

MoMA's Soundings show features work by 16 different contemporary artists, both locally-based such as Tristan Perich, Sergei Tcherepnin and Stephen Vitiello, as well as a strong international contingent including the likes of Hong-Kai Wang from Tawain, the Norwegian Jana Winderen, and Richard Garet from Uruguay. Most of these works could be called installations, which is always a bonus when exploring something new, and almost all are by definition immersive. The most popular, instantly engaging piece is also quite interactive: Tristan Perich’s Microtonal Wall, a 25-foot panel of 1,500 tiny speakers that hangs in the main hallway on the way into the exhibition. Each of the speakers here emits a slightly different pitch. Stand still in front of it and get your basic white noise. Walk quickly (or, heck, actually run) along its length, your ear as close as you can get with smashing into the thing, and the sound comes alive.

Two women experiencing Haroon Mizra's Frame For a Painting installation at the MoMA, which includes a wall of white acoustic paneling.

Our Favorites at Soundings Exhibition

Some works at the MoMA's Soundings exhibition are conceptually clever rather aurally appealing. Carsten Nicolai's Wellenwanne Ifo–the tank that greets you at the entrance of the exhibition–is more kinetic sculpture than anything else, using sound of such low frequency that it's actually inaudible, though you can see the waves as they travel across a pool of water. Other favorites of mine include Richard Garet's Before Me, in which a glass marble is stuck rolling in place on an old turntable, and is mesmerizing both to watch and listen to; and Haroon Mizra's Frame For a Painting, which makes good use of acoustic panelling and one of MoMA's Piet Mondrians. Certainly not a blockbuster, Soundings: A Contemporary Score, but definitely worth checking out for contemporary art fans and completists.   

Image of Carsten Nicolai's Wellenwanne Ifo tank that greets you at the entrance of the Soundings MoMa exhibition.

More Information: Soundings at The MoMA

Soundings: A Contemporary Score will be a MoMA through November 3, and is located in the back gallery on the museum's third floor. For more information, visit the MoMA's website!

Three men sitting on a bench at the MoMa, in front of a sign that says "Soundings A Contemporary Score"

 

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