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Listening to Pictures

DATES April 28, 1968 through 1973
  • April 1, 1970 “Listening To Pictures”, officially opened in April of 1968 is again accessible to Museum visitors after having been closed for months in order to rearrange the collection and perfect audio and recording equipment.

    “Listening To Pictures" utilizes taped, spontaneous conversations recorded in the homes and studios of contemporary painters and sculptors and includes all of the sounds usually attendant in these situations. Through these recordings, the artists for the first time, become their own interpreters to the museum public of a particular work of their own.

    The collection, in a specially designed and equipped gallery on the 5th floor, combines realists such as Edward Ho[p]per, Charles Sheeler, and John Koch with abstract expressionists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan and Larry Rivers, and cool abstractionists such as Mary Bauermeister, Ursula Meyer and Ad Reinhardt.

    Visitors may purchase or rent three-ounce ster[e]ophonic earphones which activate recordings incorporated in an information rail located before each work. Viewers may move in any direction and at any pace. There are no limitations as to time, number or sequence of works. Recordings are three-minutes in length and installed in separate message repeaters. Admission to the gallery is free.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1953 - 1970. 1970, 001.
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  • April 28, 1968 “Listening to Pictures,” a new installation of The Brooklyn Museum’s contemporary American collection of paintings, watercolors, and sculpture, allows the visitor to actually hear the artist talk about his work. The exhibition, which opens on April 28, encompasses 84 examples by 73 artists, each of whom permitted the Museum to tape record an extensive interview.

    Modern styles, with all their diversity, are frequently confusing to the average visitor. In an effort to make the Museum’s contemporary collection more meaningful, Miss Arlene Jacobowitz, Assistant Curator of Paintings and Sculpture, began three years ago to tape live interviews with artists whose works were on exhibition at the Museum.

    In addition to their importance as art historical documents, the interviews have permitted the artists to expand on the meaning of their work. Louise Nevelson, for example, is represented in the collection by “First Personage,” a strong, large, black sculpture of 1957, and a significant work in the round, though atypical of her later “walls” with which she is most frequently associated. In explaining the reasons for her change in style, Miss Nevelson comments, "When I began working on this, I sort of got very introverted, and right up near the neck of it is a line, you may notice it, like what they call ....knots. I got so introverted in this piece that I began to see this knot moving, like two lips, and I was awfully glad to get it out of my studio, because it was getting to me a little bit ....I wanted to be more secretive about the work and I began more or less working in the enclosures - there’s something more private for me and gives me a better sense of security. This piece cured me from trying to do things in the round.”

    In 1952, when Jack Levine’s satirical painting, “Welcome Home,” was included in a State Department exhibit of American art to be shown in the Soviet Union, cries of protest came from Congress and even the White House. Mr. Levine notes that “It seemed like the House Un-American Affairs Committee were afraid that a group of us painters would convert the Russians to Communism.” Today, the picture is no longer controversial, yet Mr. Levine continues to paint social commentary. “I work alone in the studio and I have to, among other things, entertain myself. I have to stay here. It’s lonely activity and it’s boring enough as it is, and if I cut out all these things (social satire) that amuse me, what would I have?”

    The entire tapes (which will be available to interested scholars both at the Museum and at the Archives of American Art) have been edited to three-minute excerpts and installed in separate message repeaters. These audible labels are incorporated into an information rail which stands in front of the work. The visitor may purchase for $1.00, or rent for 25 cents, a set of 3 ounce stereophonic air column earphones which activate the recording when plugged into the rail.

    Wide choice is given the viewer who may move in any direction at any pace. The owner of the earphones may use them over and over again, not only in this gallery, but in similar applications planned for other areas of the Museum.

    The Museum’s collection of American painting, particularly works dating from the Colonial period to the early 20th century, is already well known. During recent years, however, more emphasis has been placed on acquiring contemporary examples to represent all aspects of American art. The exhibition includes realists such as Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler and John Koch along with abstract expressionists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, and Larry Rivers, and ‘cool’ abstractionists such as Mary Bauermeister, Tony Smith and Ad Reinhardt.

    A book by Miss Jacobowitz on the contemporary collection, including interview transcripts and photographs of the artists and their work, will be published by Doubleday & Co. next year.

    The project was partially supported by the Museum Aid Program of the New York State Council on the Arts.

    “Listening to Pictures” will be previewed by guests attending the Artists Ball at the Museum on Saturday evening, April 27.


    Lennart Anderson
    Stephen Antonakos
    Marshall Arisman
    Walter Barker
    Leonard Baskin
    Mary Bauermeister
    Thomas Hart Benton
    Robert Brackman
    Isabel Bishop
    Sydney Butchkes
    Edmond Casarella
    George Constant
    Robert Dash
    Jose de Creeft
    Blanche Dombek
    Torn Doyle
    Jimmy Ernst
    Neil Estern
    Philip Evergood
    Helen Frankenthaler
    Jane Freilicher
    Leon Goldin
    Sidney Goodman
    Sante Graziani
    Balcomb Greene
    John Grillo
    William Gropper
    Chaim Gross
    Robert Gwathmey
    Roy Gussow
    Grace Hartigan
    Edward Hopper
    Nora Jaffe
    Paul Jenkins
    Minoru Kawabata
    William Kienbusch
    Karl Knaths
    John Koch
    Yayoi Kusama
    Jennett Lam
    Steven Lang
    Robert Laurent
    Jacob Lawrence
    Jack Levine
    Jacques Lipchitz
    Seymour Lipton
    Boris Margo
    Ursula Meyer
    Hans Moller
    Walter Tandy Murch
    Louise Nevelson
    Toshio Odate
    Elliot Offner
    Doug Ohlson
    Ad Reinhardt
    William Richards
    Larry Rivers
    Emilio Sanchez
    Kenzo Okada
    Amanda Palmer
    Irene Rice Pereira
    Gabor Peterdi
    Karl Schrag
    Ben Shahn
    Charles Sheeler
    Tony Smith
    Aaron Sopher
    Moses Soyer
    Raphael Soyer
    William Than
    Elbert Weinberg
    Marguerite Zorach
    William Zorach

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1953 - 1970. 1968, 018-020
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