New York

“White Noise”

Another group show based on the to-and-fro between artists and music and musicians and art, “White Noise” boasted a solid cross section of youngish musicians (Jason Ajemian, Brendan Fowler, Mario Diaz de León), visual artists from older generations with a verifiable interest in rock music (Robert Smithson, Raymond Pettibon), and figures who work extensively in both media (Yoko Ono, Christian Marclay, Jutta Koether, Rodney Graham, Emily Sundblad). By raising expectations of sonic overlap in the title, curator Elyse Goldberg acknowledged the difficulties in containing individual sounds in an exhibition setting: There was little chance of any work’s sound being cordoned off and kept discrete from its neighbors’. The lack of sonic enclosure was underlined by a pair of speakers outside the gallery emitting the noise of the post-punk band the Bush Tetras, Louise Lawler’s birdcalls, and a CD compendium from Art in General’s 2004 exhibition “Rock’s Role (After Ryoanji)” (and, when I visited, by the fortuity of the street entrance door’s being ajar).

Inside, the din wasn’t as cacophonous as one might have expected; there were many moments of serendipitous cohesion between the competing sound components of the various works. The metallic rhythms generated by Laurie Anderson’s sculptural audio installation In the House. In the Fire, 2009, made a nice duet with Yoko Ono’s cries and John Lennon’s agitated guitar on the sound track to Ono’s neighboring film Fly, 1970. In fact, video sound tracks constituted the overwhelming majority of the audio heard in the main gallery (a high-velocity classical piano piece by Thollem McDonas for Martha Colburn’s equally rapid-fire animation Triumph of the Wild I and II, 2008; Black Sabbath’s “Into the Void,” played backward by a chamber ensemble in Lucas and Jason Ajemian’s Untitled, 2006; and Ronnie Bass’s home-brewed electronica in his 2012, 2008), ultimately making “White Noise” not much noisier than the average mixed-media gallery show—which could have been part of the point. Two bona fide classics of sound art, Robert Morris’s Box with the Sound of its Own Making, 1961, whose unassuming exterior conceals a tape recorder playing the clanking sounds of its three-hour-long construction, and Joseph Beuys’s Ja Ja Ja Ja Nee Nee Nee Nee, 1969, which finds the artist repeating yeses and noes ad infinitum, were played at a lower volume and could only be heard by leaning in close to their displays. The decision to install them in this way seemed to take its cue from the old musician’s trick of playing softly in order to make the audience quiet down and pay attention.

Tacita Dean’s framed magnetic-recording-tape strips, labeled with the bird sounds they contain, and the soundless vibrating speaker cones with attached Slinkys in David Moreno’s Quietly Oscillating, 2005—an interesting variant on a by now familiar subgenre of sound art—were the two best examples of sound rendered physical. Meredyth Sparks’s Ramones VI, 2008, a photo of the band digitally scanned from a book, was notable for the way in which a page number in its lower left-hand corner contextualized the image as secondary source material, acting as an inconspicuous signifier for the current historicization of the 1970s punk movement. Signs ambiguously reading SILENCE by both Marclay and Jack Pierson, and still-life photos of record covers by both Moyra Davey and Anne Collier were not especially redundant, just unnecessary. If “White Noise” failed to reveal any significant connections between its generally well-chosen works or artists, it was still, in a sense, an ideal summer show; with a squint, the bright colors of works by Jamie Shovlin, Jim Lambie, Colburn, and even of Smithson’s collage-installation Radio Cyclops, 1964, combined with the titular sound clash, conjured visions of a day at the beach, complete with competing boom boxes.

Alan Licht