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Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: Opera for a Small Room to Open at Carnegie Art Museum
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Opera for a Small Room, 2005; mixed media installation with sound and synchronized lighting; 20-min. loop. 260.1 x 299.7 x 449.6 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York © Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, 2005.

PITTSBURGH, PA.- Carnegie Museum of Art is pleased to present Opera for a Small Room, a collaboration between acclaimed contemporary artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller.

Opera for a Small Room introduces visitors to the quirky world of a man named R. Dennehy, the owner of a collection of opera records that the artists purchased at a second-hand store in a small town in British Columbia.

“After finding this sizable record collection—all opera records with an emphasis on the great tenors—the artists started asking themselves ‘Who is this person; why this music; and what role did it play in his life?’ They began to ponder why he was obsessed with opera, and how the music impacted him. Was he a musician himself, perhaps an opera singer? Or had he experienced something so sad in his life that he turned to the emotionally driven opera music to find solace?” said Karin Campbell, Contemporary Art curatorial assistant and coordinator for Opera for a Small Room. “The artists wanted to explore the central juxtaposition of Dennehy collecting the refined art of opera while living in an isolated small town in Canada.”

The installation, which Cardiff and Miller constructed as an imaginative and fictional story of Dennehy’s life, features a structure filled with records, lights, and other knickknacks. Visitors cannot actually enter the ramshackle room, but are able to peer in through holes in the walls. Music pouring out of 24 antique loud speakers permeates the gallery, while pulsating lights echo the music’s beat and mood. The music ranges from opera to pop, enhancing the sense that this work really could be a soundtrack for somebody’s life.

Periodically, a man’s voice interrupts the music, uttering sentences similar to stage directions, such as: “In the middle of the stage, a man sits alone in a room filled with speakers, amplifiers, and records.” Shadows shift across the walls of the room, and a shuffling sound can be heard right before the music changes, almost as though an invisible DJ is playing with his records. In this theatrical and beautiful work, the music, record players, and lights become the “actors” that convey a dramatic and narrative portrait of Dennehy.

Cardiff work was previously seen at Carnegie Museum of Art during the 1999/2000 Carnegie International for a piece entitled In Real Time. For this original, site-specific audio-video work, visitors were given small digital camcorders with headphones and then led on tour through Carnegie Library guided by Cardiff’s voice.

Opera for a Small Room will be on display from March 14 to Ju1y 19 in Heinz Gallery A.

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