At the Rubin Museum, Listening to the Sound of the Universe

Given the global diversity of New York City, you can always expect a wide cultural sampling of the world, yet it’s nevertheless surprising that the city serves as home to a major museum devoted to Himalayan art. The Rubin Museum of Art, located in Chelsea on W. 17th St. near Seventh Avenue, grew out of a private art collection owned by Donald and Shelley Rubin. The museum opened its doors in October of 2004.

The spiral staircase at the Rubin Museum
The Rubin is housed in spaces previously occupied by a former Barneys department store, including a sweeping spiral staircase that is easily imagined to have once been used by fashion models. An expansion in 2011 gave the museum additional space to provide educational services. The museum now routinely offers noteworthy public programs, many created to building paths between the high mountain world of Himalayan art and the seekers down on W. 17th Street.   

The museum provides a welcome relief from the ordinary business of New York. The galleries direct attention away from the grind of the anxious 9-to-5 city and toward the presence of the moment. The whole museum experience, with the sweeping spiral staircase as its core, functions like a guided meditation. The rooms, including the cafe, appear darker and mellower than in the museums uptown, but the objects are always sufficiently illuminated. Focused seeing and directed attention matter here.

This summer at the Rubin, the attention is on sounds - the sounds made by sound artists, the sounds of Buddhist monasteries, the ambient sounds of the world, and the sound of your own breathing. The immersive interactive exhibit, The World is Sound, is designed to raise awareness that all the senses play into consciousness and meditation practices. We often look but do not see, and we hear but do not listen.

The staircase is listening. Le Corps Sonore (Sound Body), an original site-specific installation created by √Čliane Radigue, Laetitia Sonami, and Bob Bielecki, consists of droning sounds triggered by walking up and down the stairs. With this work, visitors take into consideration the relationship of their bodies with the ambient sounds. In the serene OM room, with sound and digital design by Terence Caulkins of Arup, visitors listen to recordings that previous museum visitors made of the OM sound, a frequently used mantra signifying the vibration of the universe.

Cafe Serai at the Rubin Museum
The exhibition follows the cycle of creation, death and rebirth, juxtaposing images with recordings from Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Nepal and India. Several contemporary sound artists are represented. Of particular interest is the room devoted to the late Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016) and her instructions for “Deep Listening.” 

The Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th St.
Website

The World is Sound
Through January 8, 2018

Also of note:
Henri Cartier-Bresson: India in Full Frame
Through September 4, 2017

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from June 26, 2017.

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