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UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive examines the different aspects of silence
Christian Marclay: Gold Silence (The Electric Chair), 2006; silkscreen ink on synthetic polymer paint on canvas; 22 × 30 1/2 in.; Marieluise Hessel Collection, Hessel Museum of Art, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

BERKELEY, CA.- In today’s digitized world, silence is increasingly elusive. For composer John Cage, the absence of sound was not merely elusive, it was impossible. His groundbreaking composition 4’33” contained no actual music, but instead called attention to the ambient sounds surrounding the performance and its audience. He asserted “there is always something to see, something to hear.” On the occasion of Cage’s hundredth birthday, Silence presents nearly a century of modern and contemporary art and film to examine the spiritual, existential, and political aspects of silence.

Co-organized by the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and The Menil Collection in Houston, Silence presents a broad range of works, including iconic pieces by Joseph Beuys, Giorgio de Chirico, Marcel Duchamp, René Magritte, Christian Marclay, Robert Rauschenberg, Doris Salcedo, Andy Warhol, and many other leading artists. Ranging from uncanny to incantatory to experiential, the works on view are not all without sound, but all invoke silence to shape space or consciousness. The film program, which boasts works by Ingmar Bergman, Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren, and Nam June Paik, among others, traces the use of silence and sound in experimental cinema, from the tradition of silent films, to the malleable use of sound, to works that seek to unify the source of both image and sound.

Beginning with early twentieth-century Surrealist paintings by de Chirico and Magritte that explore unseen and inaudible realms of the unconscious, the exhibition moves to artists who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, including Rauschenberg and Beuys, and then to the present with works by Marclay, Tino Sehgal, Doris Salcedo, and others. The exhibition includes a canvas from Rauschenberg’s White Paintings series, a primary influence on 4’33” that Cage described as “airports for lights, shadows, and particles.” Marclay, an artist who explores music and sound in a wide range of media, created a new series of works for Silence, inspired by and displayed with several Andy Warhol Electric Chair silkscreen paintings from the 1960s. Marclay was particularly interested in the sign reading “SILENCE” in the background of the Warhol paintings, which for Marclay implies both authority and an audience.

Among some of the show’s other notable paintings, sculptures, performances, sound and video works are Robert Morris’s Box with the Sound of Its Own Making (1961), a small wooden cube containing the audio recording of its own making; Nauman’s neon work Violence Violins Silence (1981-82); documentation of Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performance (1978-79), for which the artist spent an entire year in a cage without speaking, reading, writing, or listening to the radio or watching television; and Kurt Mueller’s Cenotaph (2011), a vintage jukebox filled with a hundred recordings of historical moments of silence.

The films included in Silence explore different variants of quiet—aesthetic, revelatory, and sensorial. Including experimental works by Brakhage, Deren, Nathaniel Dorsky, Warner Jepson, Paik, and Barry Spinello, among others, the series reaches from the tradition of silent works, to the malleable use of sound, to works that seek to unify the source of both image and sound. Screening between February 1 and February 27, 2013 the five-program series also includes Bergman’s The Silence and Philip Gröning’s Into Great Silence, each of which explore spiritual and philosophical implications from their muted observations.

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