Bertoia’s Environment for Sound

Internationally, Harry Bertoia is known for the Diamond Chair series which he designed for Knoll in the 50s and which has become a global blockbuster (below). But in America, the sculptor and designer is particularly known for his exploration with the relationship between sculpture and sound, and for the significant oeuvre that resulted from this research. 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 as “Sonambient,” 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, all created in his laboratory/studio, set in an old barn outside Bally, Pennsylvania. Now, the Museum of Arts and Design opens a show ‘Atmosphere for Enjoyment Harry Bertoia’s Environment for Sound,’ which comes to explore this aspect of Bertoia’s legacy. Taking its title from an unrealized concept drawing in which Bertoia imagined a complete environment for his sculptures and furniture, Atmosphere for Enjoyment consists 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 barn, recordings and sounding sculptures as an important influence on sound, music and art today.

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