Music meets art at Washington County museum

Traveling exhibit looks at the meshing of two art forms

Traveling exhibit looks at the meshing of two art forms

September 29, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

How does music - a purely auditory expression - "look" if drawn on a canvas?

It's a question artists across the centuries have explored, and some of their "answers" will be on display starting this weekend at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

The traveling exhibit "The Art of Music" combines selected works from the Baltimore Museum of Art by artists such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp and douard Manet. In addition, the exhibit showcases rare instruments from ancient American and African cultures.

"We talk about the different reasons artists have been inspired by music and how it appears in their artwork," explains Kimberly Meisten, co-curator for the exhibit and director of public programs for the Baltimore Museum of Art.


A prime example is a work called "Woman in Striped Pullover, Violin on the Table" by Matisse. In the painting, a plain-expressioned woman stares at the viewer, her arm propped on a table with a violin resting behind her. In this painting, "you really wonder if the violin is hers," Meisten says. "Some scholars say that maybe the violin is a symbol for Matisse. You see it used as a prop, again and again (in Matisse's work). Maybe that's the way he put himself in the painting."

The exhibit of more than 45 works of art explores the relationship between art and music in several dimensions. The first section of the exhibit gives viewers a look at the cultural themes drawn from the way artists integrated musical elements into their two-dimensional or three-dimensional art forms. The show takes a look at how artists use music to express courtship, for example. It also highlights the traditions of music as entertainment and how such performances reflect the ways cultures celebrate and mourn.

Instruments from African, Inuit and American Indian cultures will be on display. Audiences will see how the design and ornamentation on the instruments reflect cultural values and beliefs.

One particularly foreign piece of artwork on display is an Australian didgeridu. The long tubular instrument creates a deep, warbling sound.

"The aborigines would use it in mortuary ceremonies," Meisten says.

"The didgeridu player would be instrumental in carrying the soul from this world to the next." The didgeridu on display at the Washington County museum was crafted in 1969 and includes carvings that reflect its ceremonial purpose.

The second part of the exhibit looks at art and music in the modern era. In the 20th century - especially evident in the jazz age - movements in art often were reflected in music and vice versa. Works by Matisse, Romare Bearden and Roy de Carava show this relationship particularly well.

The exhibit asks: "Why are these styles in music and art happening at the same time?" Meisten says. One example is minimalist art and music. "The Art of Music" includes a minimalist sculpture and a recording of minimalist music, both created in the 1960s.

"We also explore how you see this march toward a point where you aren't really sure whether to call it a visual composition or a musical composition," Meisten says. An entry in the show called "Easy to Remember" by Lorna Simpson is actually a video where viewers see multiple human mouths moving and humming the tune "Easy to Remember," but they also hear the voices attached to the lips. "It's a great work," Meisten says. "You're kind of mesmerized by it."

Throughout the exhibit, viewers are asked to hear the sounds that totally silent artworks emit. But they also get to listen to songs and instrumental recordings that reflect the art. For example a recording of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" can be heard while looking at two works that explore the musician's impact on jazz and the modern era, Meisten says.

After checking out the county museum's latest exhibit, visitors will come away with a new understanding about how different cultures used and experienced art and music, Meisten says.

"You are looking at all different cultures and all different time periods. I think probably the biggest thing you can get out of it is the universality of music and art," she says.

If you go ...

WHAT: "The Art of Music" exhibition

WHEN: Opening reception will be from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2. The exhibit will be on display Saturday, Oct. 1, through Sunday, Nov. 20. Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, City Park, Hagerstown

COST: Free

MORE: For more information, call 301-739-5727 or go to

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