By Kai Oliver-Kurtin
As part of Balboa Park’s centennial celebration of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA) will hold the largest exhibit in the museum’s recent history, titled “The Art of Music,” from Sept. 26 – Feb. 7, 2016.
To parallel the Exposition’s yearlong celebration of music a century ago that included live performances nearly every day, SDMA kicked off a concert series in January that will continue throughout 2015.
The SDMA hopes to bring upwards of 100,000 people to the museum to view the exhibit, which features more than 200 objects divided among three sections.
“It’s not chronological, it’s organized by theme,” said Anita Feldman, deputy director of curatorial affairs. “The first section examines the symbolic nature of musicians portrayed in popular works, the second illustrates the social ramifications of music and art, and the third shows how musical sounds influence the color and shape of visual artwork.”
Four internal curators were charged with organizing the exhibit because of its size and complexity.
“Every curator is an expert in their own field,” said Feldman. “Everyone put their expertise together to create a really vast body of work, looking at the affinity between music and visual art that goes across different cultures and periods in history.”
Even though the show contains works from all over the world, it opens with a large-scale piece by local San Diego artist John Baldessari, titled “Beethoven’s Trumpet (with Ear).”
“This is a complicated installation that takes up the entire east wing of the museum downstairs,” Feldman said. “But it’s really about the variety of the material — containing video and sound installations, musical instruments, and the concert series.”
The exhibit was selected by an international team of curators to also include paintings, sculptures, photographs, and musical artifacts such as the original manuscript from Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Works from legendary artists Salvador Dalí, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso will be showcased. The exhibit catalogue contains more than 350 pages of in-depth essays from curators, art historians, musicologists, and others.
Soon the SDMA will be launching its own mobile app just in time for “The Art of Music,” which will serve as a reference guide to the museum’s various collections.
“The show will be really interactive,” Feldman said. “A number of musical instruments have speakers that will respond to the fact that you’re there, and will show you what the instrument sounds like as you approach it.”
A guided audio tour is also available for guests as they navigate the exhibit, with audio clips for about 20 of the works.
Other corresponding programs include one of SDMA’s signature Culture & Cocktails events on Nov. 5, a scholarly symposium on Nov. 7, and occasional musical ArtStops and Family Drop-In Days with performances by members of the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory’s Community Opus Project.
The ongoing concert series takes place on the third Thursday of each month, held in the museum galleries, the James S. Copley Auditorium, and the Plaza de Panama. On Sept. 17, solo cellist Charles Curtis will perform in the Hibben Gallery.
The museum’s neighboring restaurant Panama 66 is also developing its own music series to coincide with the exhibit, and will feature items with the Art of Music theme.
SDMA will be the first venue to show “The Art of Music,” but they’re in negotiations with an international venue that may acquire it next.
For more information, visit sdmart.org/programs-events/music.