In the 1960s, world-renowned sculptor and designer Harry Bertoia began exploring the potential relationship between sculpture and sound, and eventually created a significant oeuvre that would crown his life’s work.
Upon discovering the range of tones possible when pieces of wire or metal rods strike one another, Bertoia spent two decades crafting hundreds of “sounding sculptures” in pursuit of a simple instrument. Referred to collectively as “Sonambients,” these sculptures are interactive, kinetic, and audible forms consisting of bundles of metal rods that collide and set off radiant tones when agitated by wind or human touch. Beginning in 1968, Bertoia remodeled the old stone barn that still stands on his ninety-acre property outside Bally, Pennsylvania, to house the Sonambients and act as a recording studio. There he recorded approximately 400 tapes of the sculptures, eventually producing eleven LPs with titles such as Phosphorescence and Ocean Mysteries.
As a compliment to Bent Cast Forged: The Jewelry of Harry Bertoia, on view in the Museum’s Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery, Atmosphere for Enjoyment will explore the Sonambients, their installation in Bertoia’s stone barn, and their legacy as sound-art. Taking its title from an unrealized concept drawing in which Bertoia imagined a complete environment for his sculptures and furniture, Atmosphere for Enjoyment will consist of an immersive four-channel sound installation by John Brien created from Bertoia’s original Sonambient recordings; interactive sounding sculptures made by Bertoia’s son, Val Bertoia; a selection of monotypes that capture the artist’s vision for the Sonambient forms; and an array of ephemera, recordings, and hands-on materials. Complementing the exhibition will be a series of live performances in the gallery by contemporary sound artists Lizzi Bougatsos and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe that explore the legacy of the Sonambient as an important influence on sound, music, and art today.