Lodged in a spacious apartment in an unassuming 19th-century building on Rome’s busy Piazza Vittoria, the new Sound Art Museum is both a public venue and the realized dream of Dora Stiefelmeier and Mario Pieroni, the founders of Zerynthia, a not-for-profit organization created in 1991 to promote exhibitions and performances in Italy and abroad. Inaugurated Feb. 26, the Sound Art Museum is a project of Zerynthia and its subsidiary, RadioArteMobile (RAM), an internet radio station launched in 2002 to explore–and expand–the territory shared by the visual arts and sound research. The Sound Art Museum’s premiere exhibition is “Inaudita” (meaning both “unheard” and “unprecedented”) and features installations by the Vito Acconci studio, Markus Huemer, Donatella Landi, Stephen Vitiello and Achim Wollscheid. The organizers are Lorenzo Benedetti, an independent curator, Riccardo Giagni, a composer and musicologist, and the artist Cesare Pietroiusti.
Initially funded by grants from the European Union, RAM sponsored an online archive of performances, interviews and other recorded events as well as a traveling archive prior to opening the Sound Art Museum. Already in place in the apartment were metal couches covered with textiles by Vettor Pisani. Bruna Esposito installed a plantlike composition of copper tubing in a bathroom; a sound piece by Annie Ratti issues from the toilet. Mario Airo made a light sculpture for the ceiling in the apartment’s largest room, the chairs are by Franz West, and the long table bearing art books was fabricated by Massimo Bartolini using the apartment’s doors. An enormous bedroom cabinet with mirror appliques by Michelangelo Pistoletto houses CDs by international sound artists along with listening stations for visitors. The selections include works by spoken-word artists such as Eyman, whose Hollywood Babylon is a layering of familiar voices from the movies. Other pieces are more musical, such as Zelada’s Butterflies on a Rainy Day and John Bischoff’s Aperture. From mechanically and electronically produced compositions to the extremes of the human voice, the archive strives to show the range of contributions by contemporary makers of sound art.
Acconci’s contribution to the debut exhibition is a giant Styrofoam shell, like the structure of an ear, whose interior is pasted over with poster-size blueprint renderings of listening environments proposed specifically for the Sound Art Museum. Huemer addresses the intersection of sound and vision with his black box environment filled only with the now old-fashioned clatter of a movie projector. Landi contributes a series of CDs that aurally “map” the different lines of the Paris Metro. Vitiello makes the inaudible “visible” with a half dozen speakers, suspended from wires, which whirl when activated to emit sounds received only by canine ears. Wollscheid’s slight but charming work consists of several microphones bearing red LED lights that cease to glimmer when confronted by a sharp noise such as hands clapping.
Over the entire enterprise presides the spirit of John Cage, who decades ago charted the borders of sound art with such compositions as Silent Prayer (1948) and 4_33_ (1952). Pioneering initiatives in the field include the musical ventures of the Dia Art Foundation during the 1980s; Tellus, the New York audio magazine founded in 1983 by Claudia Gould, Carol Parkinson and Joseph Nechvatal; Berlin’s Gelbe Musik, run by Rene Block; and Maurizio Nannucci’s Florence-based Zona Archives. The online radio station of P.S.1 in New York debuted in 2004. Rome’s Sound Art Museum now adds a stable and welcoming home for this dimension of art.