An Immersive Sound Installation at MoMA Introduces the Studio

It’s an ambiguous name, open to interpretation and possibility: the Studio.

Perhaps that’s the point. As part of the Museum of Modern Art’s expansion and curatorial reboot — designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler, and opening to the public on Oct. 21 — the Studio will serve as a dedicated space for performances, screenings, residencies and more.

Sleekly modular, the room — seamlessly integrated with its neighboring fourth-floor galleries, yet set off with black end-grain wood flooring and the dark walls of a black-box theater — can be adapted for an expansive variety of uses. In the future, it will host a commission by the choreographer Adam Linder and the artist Shahryar Nashat; Shuzo Azuchi Gulliver’s film-based installation “Cinematic Illumination”; and a residency with the multidisciplinary MacArthur fellow Okwui Okpokwasili.

For now, the Studio is where visitors can seek or stumble upon David Tudor’s “Rainforest V (variation 1)” (1973-2015), realized by Composers Inside Electronics Inc. Seen from the room’s entrance, the immersive sound installation fills the space with everyday objects — feel free to stick your head in the metal barrel — suspended and equipped with sonic transducers, and set against a backdrop of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking 53rd Street. If you walk up to those windows and look back toward the galleries, you’ll see “Rainforest” juxtaposed with views of artworks from the fourth and fifth floors, as if the museum were inviting a conversation among all of them.

“Rainforest” will be accompanied by performances planned for Oct. 24 through Dec. 15. But the installation will be available to visitors outside the hours of live programming, which is the goal for nearly every Studio project going forward. “We want to open this up and make it more publicly available,” Stuart Comer, MoMA’s chief curator of media and performance, said in a recent interview. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.

Why Tudor for the first Studio exhibition?

Tudor was a central member of the circle at Black Mountain College. On a floor where you’ve been introduced to connections among people like Merce Cunningham, John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg, it seemed like a critical moment to reintroduce a figure that has not had as much attention. It signals a very cross-discipline and collective way of working.

When this was commissioned for Cunningham’s “RainForest,” Warhol first showed his Mylar balloons. You get a sense of what a watershed moment it was. And another side is that Tudor was really a visionary in the use of computer technology and electronics. He really anticipated the use of technology in producing art.

What was the idea behind putting this room among the galleries, and making it flexible?

This was a very exciting conversation between the curatorial side and the architects. They really heard what our aspirations and ambitions were and helped us to achieve them. There have been performance spaces at other museums — the Tate, the Whitney — but these are still slightly divorced from the collection. We want to place the collection at the heart of the programming.

I think a lot of flex spaces tend to be overcomplicated. We tried to keep this straightforward. One of the primary goals was of course good acoustics. The atrium is a good space for performance, but the acoustics are challenging. Here, we can seal or keep open the space so it can be quickly shifted from public to much more private. Even the glass wall was engineered so you could not hear a siren on 53rd Street. The walls can also modulate to change the acoustics. And it’s all done in a way that can also accommodate technology as it evolves; we’ve tried to avoid anything that was too fixed.

It seems like, as a curator, you suddenly have a lot more possibilities, and a lot more to do.

I’m definitely busier. [Laughs] But happily so.

Rainforest V (variation 1)

Through Jan. 5 at the Museum of Modern Art, at 11 West 53rd Street, Manhattan;

Joshua Barone is a senior staff editor on the Culture Desk, where he writes about classical music and other fields including dance, theater and visual art and architecture. @joshbarone Facebook

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