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Conceived as an investigation of past and present times, "Art or Sound" explores the relationship between art and sound and the way it has developed from the 16th century to the present day, examining the iconic aspects of musical instruments, the role of the artist-musician, and the areas in which the visual arts and music have come together. The exhibition sets out to investigate the relationship of symmetry and ambivalence that exists between works of art and sound objects. The intention is to offer a reinterpretation of the musical instrument that turns into a sculptural-visual entity and of the artworks that produce sound, in a continual encroachment and inversion of fields.
The exhibition comprises more than 180 artifacts—clocks and carillons, automata and musical machines, paintings and scores, sculptures and readymades, together with decorated, assembled, imaginary and silent musical instruments—and occupies the two main floors of Ca’ Corner della Regina. For the first time the rooms on the second piano nobile are used: 800 sq. m that have been restored as part of the program of renovation of the building undertaken by Fondazione Prada since 2011.
The title "Art or Sound" is not intended as an expression of opposition, but rather as the encounter between two independent realms. It identifies an area of free transition that, over the last five centuries, has allowed art to flow into sound and sound into art, while maintaining their mutual independence. Therefore the visitor, observing and listening to the works on display, is invited to identify the variety of ways through which art and sound have embarked on the same journey or become intertwined.
The exhibition is organized in order to offer the viewer a broader engagement than that provided by the categorical perception of the artwork dictated by the eye, thus giving both the acoustic and visual elements equal prominence. The aim is to explore the possibilities of a multisensory approach to appreciating exhibits, where the act of seeing is accompanied by those of hearing, touching, smelling and tasting, enriching the understanding of art through all our senses.
Seeking to document the transition between hearing and seeing and vice versa, the exhibition takes a historical perspective, starting out with music-themed paintings by Bartolomeo Veneto and Nicola Giolfino realized between 1520 and 1530, moving on to a series of musical instruments from the following century that, while producing sounds in a traditional manner, are characterized by an aesthetic and visual element that translates into a surprising plasticity. They range, for instance, from the inlaid marble guitars and viola created by Michele Antonio Grandi and Giovanni Battista Cassarini to a 17th-century cornett in the form of a serpent with a dragon’s head, an object that is unique in the originality of its external appearance and the quality of its craftsmanship and of the sounds it produces. These are followed by a series of 18th-century musical automata, such as the precious clocks in the form of a birdcage made by Swiss craftsman Pierre Jaquet-Droz, already famous all over Europe for the level of excellence he had achieved in the construction of musical mechanisms. The exhibition continues with automatic instruments of the 19th century like the pyrophone, the gas-powered instrument invented in 1870 by Frédéric Kastner that produces luminous signals when played. It also looks at research carried out in the field of synesthesia and at musical experiments that, from futurism to dadaism, have been made in integrated noises, such as Luigi Russolo’s famous intonarumori (1913), or vernacular sounds like Giacomo Balla’s Ciac Ciac (1914), while in With Hidden Noise - À bruit secret (1916) Marcel Duchamp explored the dimension of silence in art for the first time.
Particular prominence is given to the original scores from the late 1950s written by John Cage, avant-garde composer and figure of reference for the Fluxus movement—represented in the exhibition by works by George Maciunas and Joe Jones—and for all the artists who have explored the principle of indeterminacy and chance in music and contemporary art. On the side of the object that tautologically communicates the sound produced during its construction or is capable of expressing itself autonomously once turned on, the exhibition presents the boxes of Robert Morris, Nam June Paik and Bruce Nauman, as well as kinetic sculptures made by artists like Stephan von Huene and Takis. The works of the Nouveaux Réalistes, such as Arman and Jean Tinguely, document phenomena of fortuitous destruction and assembly through musical instruments or devices, whilst Oracle (1962- 65) by Robert Rauschenberg, in line with the same principles, is a sound environment constructed out of salvaged objects and commonly used materials.
Also on display in the exhibition are examples of appropriation of the image and form of the musical instrument, such as the pop assemblages by artists from Tom Wesselmann to Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen or the pianos of Günther Uecker, Richard Artschwager and Joseph Beuys, along with hybrid instruments, genuine sculptures that can be played, like the guitars and violins of Ken Butler and the banjo of William T. Wiley. Jannis Kounellis’s work Senza Titolo (da inventare sul posto), in which a violinist and a ballerina improvise in front of a painted score, is an example of a performance that broadens the meaning of painting, while Laurie Anderson’s Handphone Table (1978), Loris Gréaud’s Crossfading Suitcase (2004) and Doug Aitken’s Marble Sonic Table (2011) are works that require interaction with the public to produce their sounds.
This exploration of the open, hybrid and ambiguous territory that lies between art and sound leads us to the more recent research of artists like Christian Marclay, Janet Cardiff, Martin Creed, Thomas Demand, Maurizio Cattelan and Rebecca Horn, and then to the production of a new generation of sound or visual artists, performers or composers, represented by Anri Sala, Athanasios Argianas, Haroon Mirza, Ruth Ewan, Walter Kitundu, Tarek Atoui, Riccardo Beretta, Pedro Reyes, Alberto Tadiello and Maywa Denki, among others.
The display system for "Art or Sound", designed by global consultancy 2x4 led by Michael Rock, is informed by the structure of a musical score. The linear organization determines the arrangement of the bases and pedestals in the environment, while the objects and instruments in the exhibition act as individual elements of a musical notation. The floors and display stands on both floors of Ca’ Corner are covered with sound-attenuating materials allowing visitors to focus on individual works.
The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive publication that reconstructs the analogies, osmosis and parallels between the research and experimentations in art, sound and music from the Renaissance to the present day. Through numerous essays by artists, musicians and historians of art and music like Jo Applin, Germano Celant, Luciano Chessa, Christoph Cox, Geeta Dayal, Patrick Feaster, Christoph E. Hänggi, Bart Hopkin, Douglas Kahn, Alan Licht, Andrea Lissoni, Noel Lobley, Deirdre Loughridge, Simone Menegoi, Holly Rogers, Jonathan Sterne, David Toop, John Tresch, Eric de Visscher and Rob Young, the book sets out to make a further contribution to the study of a multisensory perception of the arts.
Art or Sound
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Kurator: Germano Celant
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