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New interactive exhibit blends music and art

Dayton Art Institute Experiencenter’s “I See the Rhythm” offers activities for entire family

Thursdays are a special time for Jessica Roller and her 2-year-old daughter, Wren.

“We come every week for Tiny Thursdays,” said the Kettering mom, an artist who enjoys spending time in a museum environment.

On a recent Thursday, the trip was extra-special: the Dayton Art Institute had just opened “I See the Rhythm,” the newest exhibit in the family-friendly Experiencenter gallery. The show, which focuses on the relationship between art, sound and music, will run through April 2014.

The museum’s director of education, Susan Anable, came up with the theme and says the exhibit explores the creative space where music and the visual arts overlap.

We looked through our collection and realized we had a lot of musical instruments that hadn’t been on view,” she explained. “We’re trying to show the artwork in a new way, and I thought art and music made sense together and it was something we hadn’t done. Many visual artists were influenced and inspired by music.”

Just as rhythm in music controls the tempo of a song, she said, rhythm in art controls the movement in the picture or design.

Wall of sound

It doesn’t take long to spot the main attraction — it’s the amazing wall of shiny and inventive musical instruments that can be triggered by visitors of every size. If this particular morning is any indication, the adults are loving it as much as the kids.

In addition to the exciting sound sculpture, you’ll see exotic instruments from around the world: a Korean string instrument called a Kayageum, a Japanese flute known as a Biwa, a horn in the form of a dragon, and a rain drum from Southeast Asia. You can hear some of these instruments by donning earphones at the iPad kiosk.

Twentieth century works of art from the art museum’s collection that have a musical connection are also on display: Cantata by Norman Lewis and Red Circle by Dwinell Grant.

The idea that the rhyme and pattern of nursery rhymes represent some of our first experiences with rhythm is demonstrated by a singing card catalog that plays nursery rhymes, and the costumes that help youngsters perform “Hey, Diddle Diddle.”

Youngsters can decorate their own musical instruments, read books with their parents that relate to music, create a tune on a componium that works like a music box (and also are available for purchase in the gift shop). They can play a slit drum created by the museum’s Erich Reith and stage a puppet show.

Roller said her daughter especially loved the piano inspired by artist John Cage that can be “prepared” and played by the kids to alter its sound.

Cincinnati artist creates sound sculpture

The artist responsible for the interactive sound sculpture is Anthony Luensman of Cincinnati. His creation — which incorporates seven different instruments — can be activated one instrument at a time or all at once to create a giant sound. The music is triggered by push buttons or a joy stick. The name of the piece is Delirioso.

Luensman has exhibited both nationally and internationally. In 2007, he was invited to create a series of sculptures and installations for the Cincinnati Art Museum, and his recent 2012 solo show at the Weston Art Gallery in the Aronoff Center for the Arts combined sculpture, photography, sound and video. He’s the recipient of two Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Awards.

“I always liked music and first studied jazz,” said Luensman, who added that his projects often have sound components or musical themes. “Artists work alone a lot, but I like this interaction. I like to give up some of the control and let other people create within the parameters of the programming.”

Diane Stemper, the museum’s grants and education initiatives coordinator, said she’d been captivated by Luensman’s work over the years and recommended him for the Experiencenter exhibit, curated by the DAI’s education director Susan Anable.

“Anthony was invited to the DAI to see the Experiencenter space and talk about ideas for an interactive piece that incorporated music, was visually interesting and designed for youth and families to touch and play with,” Stemper explained.

Luensman was a pleasure to work with and worked out perfectly, she said.

“What is exciting about working with an artist is that they see the world around them, the spaces and objects and subsequent relationships in ways that most others do not,” she said. A case in point? Luensman called to ask if a flat wall could come down and be restored to its original curvature.

“He was able to see past the existing space and this particular wall, which was not part of the original architectural space, and imagine it as an amphitheater for an orchestra of sorts,” she said. “He understood the space in a distinctive way and could envision the interaction and layering of sound, light and reflection. Anthony was able to cue into and reference what we all now recognize with Delirioso as a musically theatrical space. Of course the answer was ‘yes’, the wall can come down!”

Roller said the Experiencenter offers a great way to experience art in a group.

“It offers lots of things I wouldn’t think to do at home,” she said. “Music and art do go hand-in-hand, but when you’re a visual artist, you don’t always think about music in this way. I don’t really know anything about music, so I’m excited to learn something new along with my daughter.”

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