Curated by DisplayCult
May 6-August 28, 2009

Artists: Laurie Anderson, Art & Language, Audio Arts, Joseph Beuys, Barbara Bloom, George Brecht, Stuart Brisley, John Cage, Sophie Calle, Philip Corner, Jan Dibbets, Marcel Duchamp, Albert M. Fine, Diamanda Galás, Douglas Gordon, Dan Graham, Rodney Graham, Jörg Immendorff, Joe Jones, Allan Kaprow, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Takehisa Kosugi, Milan Knizak, Les Levine, Robert Longo, Christian Marclay, Kelly Mark, Gordon Monahan, Ian Murray, Maurizio Nannucci, Carsten Nicolai, Yoko Ono, John Oswald, A.R. Penck, Raymond Pettibon, Gerhard Richter, Pipilotti Rist, Michael Snow, Althea Thauberger, Throbbing Gristle, Bernar Venet, Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace, Andy Warhol, Lawrence Weiner, Paul Wong.

Audio phenomena and technologies have sparked artistic experimentation since the late nineteenth century, but it is only in the 1950s and 1960s that a “sonic turn” can be decidedly articulated in the visual arts. At that time, a flurry of aural explorations by artists emerged, drawing from influences as wide-ranging as Cageian compositional strategies, Beat poetry, jazz, minimalist music, and new techniques of sampling, collaging and synthesizing sounds. The issues and interests generating these sonorous, dissonant, and sometimes inaudible works, even after fifty years, strike resounding chords with today’s artists.

While some might argue that audio art existed on the margins prior to the 1970s, by the century’s end it gained an indisputable centrality to artistic practice and an enhanced cultural resonance. MetroSonics charts this trajectory from periphery to mainstream, from do-it-yourself production to institutional collection, by focusing on historical and thematic concerns specifically related to audio art.

For a fuller text, see Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher, Metrosonics, Library and Archives Exhibition #32, Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2009 (in English and French).

To download English version please click here (PDF format, 716 KB)

To download French version please click here (PDF format, 725 KB)

MetroSonics overview

MetroSonics (2009), installation view.



Vitrine 1, Audio Art History.

The first section reflects on the art historical precedents for audio art in the movements of Futurism and Dada, in addition to interviews with John Cage and Michael Snow, pivotal figures who influenced numerous artists in the realms of theory and practice since the mid-century.

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Vitrine 2, Conceptual Music.

By the time of the rise of Fluxus in the 1960s, music became a prominent site of interrogation as well as a paradigm for the artmaking process in general. Artists and composers such as George Brecht and Takehisa Kosugi applied conceptual, instructional, and aleatory strategies to deconstruct musical conventions and redefine the potential for sound in art.

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Vitrine 3, Record as Object.

The artifacts of sound, especially mass-produced items such as 33 or 45 rpm vinyl records, often serve as the archetype for artists to manipulate, among them Milan Knizak, Christian Marclay, Carsten Nicolai, and Gerhard Richter. Whether altered by painting, burning, or being stepped on, or rendered as an etching or felt slipmats, these works pay homage to the record’s iconic cultural status even as they transgress or reconfigure its distinctive circular shape.

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Vitrine 4, Sound as/in Performance.

Many audio and performance artists rely upon the functionality of records and tapes to document their work and distribute it to a larger audience. The voices and live actions of such artists as Laurie Anderson, Jan Dibbets, Allan Kaprow, and Gordon Monahan have been captured in recordings, and so preserve the sonic, temporal aspect of their performances.

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Vitrine 5, Artists' Bands.

Artists’ interventions into popular culture frequently express a conflicted desire to critique as much as to emulate. The art band, for instance, functions as a readymade cultural model and a pre-eminent context for collaboration for artists, whether as producers of groups (Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground), musicians themselves (Rodney Graham, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger), or album cover artists (Robert Longo, Raymond Pettibon).

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Vitrine 6, Interventions into Popular Music.

More directly employing the postmodern strategies of parody, appropriation, and sampling, audioworks by Joseph Beuys, Douglas Gordon, John Oswald, Pipilotti Rist, and Althea Thauberger subvert the ideologies infusing the cultural industry of popular music.

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Vitrine 7, Reading and Speaking.

Monologues and storytelling have been fruitful means by which to experiment with identity, captivate audiences, and convey personal information. Examples by Art & Language, Barbara Bloom, Sophie Calle, Les Levine, and Kelly Mark, among others, demonstrate the range of affective styles and textual meaning implicit to the basic activities of reading, speaking, and listening.

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Vitrine 8, Audio Art Distribution.

The final section foregrounds the networks and presentational modes advantageous to audio art and central to its current proliferation. Correspondence from the art band Throbbing Gristle testifies to the extensive personal connections Art Metropole’s founders cultivated with international artists and audio providers. The portability of cassettes (and now CDs) inspired a dispersed audience for sound-based publications like Audio Arts, and the relatively easy distribution of audio art exhibitions such as Audio by Artists.

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