Sounds of NYC’s Rubin Museum

The Slatin Group
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Many NYC museums are easily accessible, offering well-placed wheelchair entrances, plenty of guided audio and in-person tours, as well as a variety of experiences tailored to people with hearing and developmental or cognitive challenges. The Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea features all of these—and has raised the bar with The World Is Sound.   

This exciting exhibition, open through January 8, 2018, is precisely as billed. Upon entering the museum, which focuses on Tibetan Buddhist art, visitors are greeted by a universe of sound. The installation features ethereal compositions that seem to reference both the natural world and the scientific wonderment of the Space Age. The centerpiece, titled Le Corps Sonore, by artists Éliane Radigue, Laetitia Sonami and Bob Bielecki, occupies prime positioning in the museum’s centrally located six-story spiral staircase. As you ascend or descend the staircase, the sound accompanies you.

“We were looking to create an exhibition that would tie together our collection and connect our visitors to the cultures of Himalayan Asia,” says Laura Sloan, manager of Docent and Access Programs at the Rubin. “We want you to listen with your whole body. The designers aimed to activate the entire museum.”

The sounds shift continually, controlled by algorithms that keep the installation in constant evolution: it never repeats. More than 20 artists contributed to the exhibit, among them C. Spencer Yeh, Hildegard Westerkamp and Samita Sinha.

Standouts include a room devoted to the late composer Pauline Oliveros and an another installation, Soundscapes, which features environmental audio culled from across Asia. On the museum’s lower level, a gallery highlights the intergenerational draw of sound as an artistic medium, with works by deaf artist Christine Sun Kim and iconoclastic avant-garde composer John Giorno. These pieces explore how sound shapes our deepest thoughts.

Other areas of note include the OM Room, a chamber that epitomizes the museum’s Buddhist focus with an endlessly variegated, multilayered OM chant assembled from thousands of visitor recordings. This is one of several meditative spaces throughout the Rubin; another features contemporary music and displays the instruments these compositions were played on. The museum also features large paintings of various Buddhist deities. Speakers embedded in the walls play traditional chants that honor these deities, allowing visitors a deeper sensory experience of the artwork. (The art vibrates with the chants.)

There are other great attractions at the Rubin, too. The museum has a world-class restaurant, Café Serai (serving dishes from the Himalayas), as well as a gift shop and a schedule of enlightening events, talks and films.

True to its Buddhist orientation, the Rubin has a robust accessibility program that includes available wheelchairs and guided tours, including guided sign language tours. Reservations are required in advance at 212-620-5000 ext. 319 or via email at reservations@rubinmuseum.org. No reservations are needed for free Senior Mondays (first Monday of the month), when the museum is free to visitors age 65 and older. For more information about the Rubin’s accessibility programs, visit http://rubinmuseum.org/accessibility.

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