Found Voice, Solo Museum: Arts Magazine

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

The Museum as Medium
Two artists bring the sights and sounds of the MIA to life in this new double presentation.

By Tamatha Sopinski Perlman

WE COME TO THE MUSEUM to look, and to ponder the accomplishments of people from around the world. Some of these works were created as long ago as 20,000 B.C., and others are so new their paint is still wet. Museums are the storehouses of objects that stand as testaments to the creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance of humankind. So it is natural for artists to be drawn to the museum as a source for their own artwork.

Two new Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) exhibitions explore the museum experience at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) this spring. Running from April 4 to May 25, this double presentation is the work of artists who use the museum as their medium. “Picturing History: Paintings and Studies of Art, Artifacts, and Architecture from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts” showcases paintings of the MIA’s European and Asian galleries by Richard Rock. In “Found Voice, Solo Museum,” Abinadi Meza has recorded the sounds of the museum to give visitors the opportunity to experience the life of the MIA in an unusual way. Together these exhibitions create an encompassing museum experience, one part representational, the other conceptual.

In “Picturing History,” Rock “paints history from life,” he said. The artist originally obtained permission to paint in the MIA galleries to develop his visual memory—learning the patina of the bronzes, the grain of woods from lands and times he never knew. These paintings were to act as the basis for future compositions of historical subjects. Eventually, though, these paintings took on lives of their own, becoming intimate portraits of the museum itself. “Picturing History” comprises more than forty small paintings created during the last seven years.

Rock’s paintings of the museum’s permanent collection and period rooms offer detailed glimpses of diverse cultures. He focuses on the rich textures, patterns, and materials of the museum and the objects it houses. This artist is looking for the past hidden deep within the objects, while acknowledging their role in the contemporary setting of the museum. He said he connects “with the minds of the many historical artisans whose works adorn the museum.” And he ponders the objects’ multifarious lives before their arrival at the MIA. Some of these lie buried deep in the earth as offerings for the dead or as cast-offs, long forgotten. Others lead more glamorous lives, traveling from city to city, staying in only the finest manors and country houses. “A soul of an era is reflected in the art,” Rock said. “It’s a portal into a different time and place.”

Meza hopes to demonstrate that the life of an art object does not end when it enters the museum. Each object is the focus of a drama unfolding around it every day. Using a range of specialized microphones, Meza recorded the daily “sonic life” of the museum. He crafted the recordings into a sound-collage presented as a looped multi-channel audio installation. These are the sounds that breathe life into the MIA. The reverberations of the past combined with those of present-day visitors are what interest this artist about the museum. “I think sound has a very intriguing relationship to experience,” he said. “It is kind of an emotional and locational undercurrent that often goes unnoticed or taken for granted.”

For “Found Voice,” Meza roamed the hallways, galleries and boiler rooms of the museum in the months prior to the exhibition, gathering three-dimensional audio samples. The result is a spatial installation whose forms are created with the footsteps, laughter, white noise, and the humming business of running a museum. These sounds are an integral part of the museum experience, triggering memories and associations. Meza enhances the visual experience with its auditory counterpart. This shift of perspective provides visitors with a greater sense of self within the context of the museum. “Much of the sonic environment of the museum is [composed] of the sounds visitors create,” Meza said. “It’s interesting to capture what they bring in—to record these acoustic artifacts.” Using the physical qualities of sound to re-create the visitor’s experience, the sound objects become a part of what they came to see. “Sound produces images in the mind,” Meza said. “Instead of showing [visitors] an image, I help them produce their own.”

Tamatha Sopinski Perlman is MAEP Program Associate at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Citation: Tamatha Sopinski Perlman, "The Museum as Medium: Two artists bring the sights and sounds of the MIA to life in this new double presentaiton." Arts 31, No. 2 (March/April 2008):20-21.