Hearing Pictures

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.”
— John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

Sound is everywhere and nowhere. Intangible and invisible to the human eye, its presence haunts, often creating the impression of imagined sound or auditory hallucinations. Common expressions, such as “That’s just hearsay,” “Am I hearing things?” and “Don’t believe everything you hear,” underscore the elusiveness of auditory perception, particularly in contrast with the seeming assuredness of sight: “Seeing is believing.” In addition to the external sounds we hear with our ears, many of us experience internal sounds — jingles, songs, and any number of noises that play in our heads.

Building on this idea of imagined sound, Hearing Pictures invites you to look at but also to listen to artwork from the Tang Collection. For centuries artists have explored the relationship between seeing and hearing, experimenting with ways of conjuring sound in traditionally silent mediums, such as drawing, painting, photography, and printmaking. Ranging from the seventeenth century to the present, these artworks embody sounds through a variety of techniques.

Some pieces evoke sound through abstract compositions of line, form, and color that produce the feeling or mood of a sound. Others depict scenes and actions that we know generate sounds — images of rushing water, an explosion, or people playing musical instruments.

Displayed to evoke a musical score, Hearing Pictures invites visitors to imagine their own aural-visual composition. The exhibition features art from the Tang Collection by artists Romare Bearden, John Christie, Heide Fasnacht, Philip Guston, Grace Hartigan, William Hogarth, Vasily Kandinsky, Nicholas Krushenick, Stanislaw Kubicki, Nicholas Monro, Eduardo Paolozzi, Walter Joseph Phillips, Dieter Roth, W. Eugene Smith, Joan Snyder, Nishikawa Sukenobu, Lois Swirnoff, Davor Vrankić, Carrie Mae Weems, James McNeill Whistler, and Garry Winogrand.

A microphone in the gallery allows you to record the sound you imagine in a selected work of art, and these sounds will be archived on the Tang’s website. Over the course of the exhibition, a range of musicians will perform at the museum, using the artworks as their score. The recordings by gallery visitors and musicians will provide material for a forthcoming piece for the Elevator Music series by Skidmore Self-Determined Majors in Music Technology.

Exhibition Name
Hearing Pictures
Exhibition Type
Group Exhibitions
Winter Gallery
May 2, 2012 - Dec 30, 2012
Hearing Pictures is curated by Megan Hyde, Curatorial Assistant, Tang Teaching Museum.
Romare Bearden, John Christie, Dorothy Dehner, Heidi Fasnacht, Philip Guston, Grace Hartigan, William Hogarth, Wassily Kandinsky, Nicholas Krushenick, Stanislaw Kubicki, Roy Lichtenstein, Nicholas Monro, Eduardo Paolozzi, Walter Joseph Philips, Dieter Roth, W. Eugene Smith, Joan Snyder, Nishikawa Sukenobu, Lois Swirnoff, Martha Swope, Davor Vrankic, Andy Warhol, Carrie Mae Weems, James McNeil Whistler, Garry Winogrand
Anchor name: Audio
Green Figures
Audio: Imagined sounds in Green Figures, exhibition visitors, June 1 - July 16, 2012. Duration: 01:27:38 hours
Artwork: Nicholas Monro, Green Figures, 1970, screen print, 27 ½ x 40 inches, gift of Joseph Jurist, 1981.71
Asphyxia #4
Audio: Imagined sounds in Asphyxia #4, exhibition visitors, July 17 to August 19, 2012. Duration: 45:53 minutes
Artwork: Davor Vrankić, Asphyxia #4, 2002, graphite on paper, 19 ½ x 12 ½ inches, purchased with funds in honor of Morgan Leger Rosenberg ‘09, 2010.8.8
Salute: On a Tar Roof
Audio: Imagined sounds in Salute: On a Tar Roof, exhibition visitors, August 21 - September 17, 2012. Duration: 18:57 minutes
Artwork: Grace Hartigan, Salute: On a Tar Roof, 1961, silkscreen, 18 x 14 ¼ inches, gift of Alfred and Fay Chandler, 1993.10.3
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