“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.