In the early 1900s, visual artists working in cities from Los Angeles to Moscow began conceiving an art to express the energy and complexity of the new century. Inspired by innovative technologies, scientific discoveries, and new perspectives on spirituality and psychology, they searched for ways to transcend representation and elevate the viewer to a sublime sensory level. For many pioneering artists and others who expanded on their explorations, music offered a model to which visual art might aspire: a pure and abstract form that pushes beyond perceivable reality and suggests limitless space and time. Their endeavors became known as “visual music.”
The term was coined by art critic Roger Fry in 1912 and encompasses a set of ideas first embraced by artists seeking to link the seemingly disparate phenomena of sight and sound. The static image of previous eras needed to be reinvented in the wake of recent scientific advancements, cultural shifts, and changes in perceptions of space and time. Since then, artists have invoked this term (along with “color music” and “mobile color”) to define their efforts to integrate the senses through art.
Visual Music traces an alternative history of the abstract art of the past century, featuring artists connected by their explorations of ideas related to synaesthesia—primarily, a unity of the senses and, by extension, a synthesis of the arts. Including painting and photography, light art, cinema and video, as well as installation art and digital media, the exhibition highlights the remarkable cultivation of these notions and reveals how contemporary installation artists have advanced the ambitions expressed by painters almost a hundred years ago.