ART/SOUND/NOW Performances at The Walters
By Samantha Buker
Wendel Patrick of WYPR’s “Out of the Blocks” and the Baltimore Boom Bap Society infused a Station North vibe into the Grecian and Roman galleries of the Walters in a recent performance where attendees were able to experience the art through Patrick’s own reactions and translation into music.
Those listening heard a depiction of the rise and fall of Greece and Rome in slightly less than a half an hour. The air shimmered with a motif of Aphrodite, trounced by the bombastic doom of Zeus. His tools? Decidedly contemporary: two turntables, a Mac, keyboard and plenty of electronics. This is the gist of ART/SOUND/NOW: Apply music-making sound technology of the moment to inject imagination into art-viewing.
ART/SOUND/NOW transforms the galleries of the Walters Art Museum into an aural expanse where your imagination, set alight, runs wild as your eyes roam over objects from Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Europe from ancient days to the Renaissance. Every fourth Thursday of the summer, museum doors were flung open with evocative music tingling all your senses. Open ended yet structured too, it’s the perfect kind of event to test on a Tinder date or enjoy with your visiting parents.
Usually, when you proceed through the gallery, you see a lot of readers— not watchers. ART/SOUND/NOW encourages everyone to look first and read later.
Tucked away amid the golden spoils of Henry Walters’ trips abroad, musician Wendel Patrick ruled magnificently over this realm for the evening. Epochs rose before us in illusory splendor of golden flute and high woodwind. The notes brought out the burnish on the pottery. A womb-like rumble marked the birthing pangs of civilization. A light tolling bell echoed throughout the space.
The audience wandered freely through the collection, hearing everything via well-placed speakers. Had we entered a new spatial reality? A soldier with his scorpion shield on a kylix seemed to be running to the beat of Wendel Patrick’s drum. A young woman felt so at home in the gallery that she laid down on a bench. If she hadn’t been laughing with a gent she’d just met kneeling at her feet, you’d have thought she was a modern Roman sarcophagus, draped in scarf and all.
Vinny, a Walters member, said he had trekked in from the suburbs for ART/SOUND/NOW. He’d heard a story about found instruments on NPR, he told me as we walked to the next gallery space for an intermedia offering of Mark Brown and Carrie Fucile that aroused his curiosity. Intemedia goes back to mid-’60s, brought to the fore by Fluxus artist Dick Higgins. It’s alive and well in Baltimore in the form of events like High-Zero.
You can usually find two time MSAC award-winning artist Carrie Fucile performing in places like The SoftHouse or even an abandoned storefront. Her tools are common: A set of quills, an electric fan, a wooden board, six bricks, a silver tray and a pile of coins and bills. She has mics on the tray, under the board and clipped on the fan.
Fucile sat like a Buddha on the floor the Cabinet of the 1600s, a room filled with rich wood paneling and a fireplace into which the audience tucked themselves. Behind her, video artist, Mark Brown’s work filled a projection screen with a single animated image in black and white (think corneal scan or planetary radar). The circle wasn’t perfect, but had scalloped edges — like a ceramic plate. Constantly shifting thumbprint whorls suggested an ever-changing topography. This is how the pair of artists welcomed us into the Age of Exploration.
Viewers took in scenes of ships flying their flags on turbulent oceans, proving the world was round. As you strolled, your sensitivity to the orbs in the collection increased. Painted grapes spilling over a basket, currants and cherries, a skull framed in flowers. Pearls on a portrait sitter’s wrist seemed ready to burst like caviar upon the tongue: a synesthesiast’s feast.
Fucile, in yogic squat, began slapping down the edges of bricks on the wood — the resulting beat pattern like Stravinsky’s’Rite of Spring’. She stacked the bricks in a Jenga formation, which miked, resulted in a terrifying wall of sound. She rained coins through it sounding like chips of porcelain. That’s when you noted over the doorjambs of rich walnut, the exquisite porcelains in blue and white, booty from the far east. Then the earth quaked — the collapse echoed around us from the falling brick.
Like the Art Happenings of the 1960s, ART/SOUND/NOW gave the museum a fresh excitement of a new experience. Whether you’re a first-timer (as many were) or someone who goes to enjoy the free admission all the time, you’ll look, learn and walk out transformed.
Now past, the final ART/SOUND/NOW performance was August 25, featuring Bonnie Jones, electronic artist, tackling the themes of migration, mobility, and impermanence, transforming an experience of the Renaissance and Medieval collection. Jazz great on the piano Lafayette Gilchrist flooded the Egyptian galleries with his signature sound.
One can only hope The Walters will continue this innovative tradition, bringing together contrasting sounds, ideas, and people into the gallery.
Author Samantha Buker is a writer-editor-cultural critic-at-large and runs 7 Veils Studio in Mt. Vernon. Her published work ranges from classical music criticism to financial journalism and has appeared in such pubs as The Daily Reckoning, City Paper, The Washington Post, and What Weekly. She serves on the board of directors of PostClassical Ensemble and is Vice-President of Occasional Symphony here in Bmore.
* Images by Liz Donadio