The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
By Emily Mello, Miami Art Museum
While many vinyl devotees visit MAM to view The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl, most visitors are not collectors. The majority of children who visit the galleries have never seen a record, yet the exhibition has engaged a diverse and intergenerational audience. One in every group will ask in disbelief of their parent, grandparent or teacher, “Did you listen to records?” and after a few age-related jokes, both children and adults alike absorb the ways the world has rapidly changed with technology.
A group of children with their families recently visited the museum and began by passing an old record around. “Can you see how many songs are on each side by looking?,” I asked. A ten-year old answered, “I see the different lines,” and began counting, while another found the track listing on the album cover. Their eyes grew wide as they saw how a song can take up space, ran their fingers across the grooves, listened and stared at eye-level with a needle on a record playing in the lobby. Their parents and I saw their pride in figuring out how it all worked, while each child’s comments and observations built upon another’s. It was exciting to see their fascination with music and history in tangible forms and their motivation to learn more.
They saw that artists, too, have found wonder in vinyl records with work like Laurie Anderson’s “Viophonograph” (1977), a violin with a record attached where the strings should be, and played by a bow fitted with a needle. “You are supposed to just listen to [a record], but she made it into an instrument,” one child commented.
They watch Christian Marclay’s “Looking for Love” (2008), a video of a needle skidding and jumping across a record in extreme close up. “What do you think is happening here?” “Someone’s moving the needle,” a few say at once. And indeed, the fragile, abrasive, and funny sounds we hear are a result of the artist’s off-camera manipulation.
A 9-year-old girl is drawn to Lyota Yagi’s “Vinyl (Clair de Lune + Moon River)” (2005-09), a video of a record made of ice on a turntable. “Do you think it would make sound?” The group speculates and waits as she puts the headphones on and then gasps, “I heard it, and then it melted away.”
While the poetry and metaphor in this work is not lost on kids, together they also discover the material properties of vinyl records that have been transformed by artists’ humor, nostalgia and unconventional thinking. At the end of the visit, parents spoke enthusiastically, of their experiences with records, as well as cds and cassette tapes. One said, “This was not at all what we expected today, in an art museum, and it was so great!”
As we embrace the many rewards of a digitized world in art and in education, encounters prompted by The Record, remind us that there is still a place for the analog experience of visiting a museum and discovering the unexpected in art and in each other.
The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl at Miami Art Museum: On view through June 10; 101 W Flagler St, Miami; 305-375-3000