Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Max Neuhaus and Sound Installation

When dealing with Relational Art and Relational Form one artist that immediately comes to mind is the American composer, and later sound artist, Max Neuhaus. Neuhaus was a pioneer in the realm of contemporary art and his innovative Sound Installations echo many of Bourriaud's theories on form and aesthetics. In Relational Art the viewer (or listener in this case) is a collaborator in the artist's creative process. The ongoing collective response of the audience is necessary for the artwork to exist. It's meaning is achieved through the new social environment that is manufactured by the dynamic between the artwork and the receiver.

Neauhaus' Sound Installations were designed to perpetually produce sound in public spaces without a visual component to draw attention to it. There were no commemorative plaques or labels; even the source of the sound was often hidden to public view. By doing this Neuhaus created artwork that is not only extremely accessible to the average citizen, but also accessible in most cases oblivious to the viewer.

A great example is Neuhaus’ Sound Installation piece in the heart of Times Square, New York City. A series of bell-like drones is emitted from a large speaker underneath a grid of subway grating. In the midst of the frenzy that is Times Square, one will seldom see a bystander stop to enjoy or even acknowledge the work. To Bourriaud’s point, the piece literally does not exist until someone responds to it. The sound is produced 24 hours a day and is always accessible to those willing to hear it. It is also a true social artwork in that its effect immeasurably changes with the changing environment surrounding it.

– Jonathan Masino



    Here's a link to a sample of the Times Square piece.

    Jonathan Masino

  2. Jonathan, you are right, I think, to see the link between this work and the ideas discussed in Bourriaud. The question though is whether Bourriaud is correct to say that the participatory art of the 1990s is qualitatively different from these earlier examples (from the 1960s and 1970s), or whether he is simply giving a new name to a kind of artistic practice with many terrific and varied examples (of which yours would be one)? Another question we might ask is whether changes in the socio-politico-economic context requires new artistic strategies or not? Should artists concern themselves with such issues or not? (Is art, to some degree, a reflection on such issues, or is it an activity whose concerns lie elsewhere. And, if so, where?)