Director’s Foreword: Making Space for Sound

By John R. Stomberg
Oct 10, 2018

While not entirely uncharted territory, presenting sound art in museums is an evolving practice. When Resonant Spaces: Sound Art at Dartmouth was exhibited in the fall of 2017, it was the first such exhibition presented by the Hood Museum of Art. Fortuitously, the Hood’s longtime home was undergoing a major renovation and expansion at the time. This circumstance gave the organizers, Spencer Topel and Amelia Kahl, license to embrace the entire College for their project—literally to curate the campus. Using the Hood’s temporary exhibition space on Main Street as a base, the team placed works in buildings and grounds spanning nearly a mile along an axis stretching from downtown Hanover through the heart of Dartmouth’s campus. The exhibition encouraged visitors to experience each site as sound transformed it. Most of the diverse installations were site specific and created for this exhibition, making Resonant Spaces one of the largest group commissioning projects of sound art to date, and a crucial step in the development of the field of sound art.

Inherently diverse as a medium, sound can be recorded from the environment or produced from an object; it can derive from a sculpture or an instrument; and, wonderfully, it often emerges from living beings. Sound can be responsive to its location or autonomous, continuous or intermittent, loud or soft. Resonant Spaces consisted of eight artists’ work that ran the gamut from Terry Adkins’s silent sculpture that evoked sound visually, to Alvin Lucier’s invisible sound-emitting work buried in a park setting. The curators deliberately selected artists whose use of sound as a medium embraced conceptual, visual, and architectural contexts.

A two-day symposium in September 2017 provided a high point during the run of the exhibition. All the living Resonant Spaces artists participated—most in person, but some remotely or by proxy. The schedule featured two distinct events, one more casual and one more formal. First, the participating artists joined our audience for an extended walking tour of the full exhibition. All discussed their installations in real time, with the work of art surrounding everyone present. The artists provided amazing insight into their ideas, challenges, and dreams. As we moved from one site to another, casual conversations emerged between the symposium participants and our museum visitors. It was a perfect preamble to what followed: each artist lecturing on his or her artistic practice following a recognizable symposium format. They also participated in group dialogues on the field of sound art in the same auditorium. The event echoed perfectly the Hood’s approach to teaching with art: combining dynamic experiential learning within the context of a rigorous curriculum.

This electronic publication lends itself well to recording the ephemeral nature of the site-specific works that comprised Resonant Spaces. It allows us to share some of the sights and sounds that made the exhibition so exciting, while incorporating the scholarship that emerged from the project. Through images and recordings, we are privileged to document the work of each artist represented in Resonant Spaces—Terry Adkins, Bill Fontana, Christine Sun Kim, Jacob Kirkegaard, Alvin Lucier, Laura Maes, Jess Rowland, and Julianne Swartz—and to have partnered with them in realizing their unique, site-specific installations on campus. We are grateful to have the opportunity to contemplate the broader implications of sound art and its presentation through essays by Gasica Ouzounian, associate professor at Oxford University, and Brett Littman, director of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum. Finally, and quite importantly, we present the work of Amelia Kahl and Spencer Topel, who brought this magnificent project to life. We benefitted immeasurably from the tireless efforts and bounding creative energy of this duo, and remain forever in their debt for making Resonant Spaces a Hood Museum of Art project.

John R. Stomberg
Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth

The Contributors

John Stomberg. Photo by Rob Strong.

John R. Stomberg is the Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. Before joining Dartmouth in January 2016, he served as the Florence Finch Abbott Director of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum and the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum, and held leadership positions at the Williams College Museum of Art and the Boston University Art Gallery. He holds a B.A. from Georgetown University and both an M.A. and Ph.D. from Boston University—all in art history. The primary focus of his curatorial work is American art and culture since 1900. Moving between photography, prints, paintings, sculpture, media art, and installation work, his exhibitions have been conceived to broaden our understanding of how art operates in, and often shapes, society. He publishes on modern and contemporary art and issues directly related to museums, education, and academia.