Like a giant jukebox, the ever-entertaining Nassau Museum is playing your song in a thrilling new show that runs until next March. If you are into rock, you will see the Les Paul guitar played by Keith Richards on The Ed Sullivan Show and the famous Gibson “Flying V” guitar favored by Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young. You may be mesmerized by a video portrait of Lady Gaga (did she just blink?) as well as art made by Joni Mitchell as she was working on her greatest album, Blue. There is a view of the Golden Gate Bridge by Tony Bennett, a towering painting by Miles Davis, which is 10 feet tall, and a painting that Frank Zappa made when he was only 20-years-old. Vintage photos of Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix and many others are reminders of the Golden Age in recorded music.
But nothing you have ever experienced has prepared you for entering the Gamelatron. In the sunlit former dining room of the mansion, you will see and hear a walk-in kinetic sculpture built for this show that brings together music, art and technology in one astonishingly original installation. It is a sanctuary and a room-size instrument. As you listen to the gentle music for gongs and bells made of hammered bronze and gold, the gap between the rationality of design and the spiritual experience of the sublime is bridged. Visitors, including the legendary composer Jimmy Webb and his wife Laura Savini, darling of the Long Island airwaves, have been enchanted by this brainchild of Aaron Taylor Kuffner, a remarkable artist whose five-year experience with gamelan players and metalworkers in Indonesia, along with his expertise in the engineering behind acoustics and automation, place him in a league of his own. Webb loaned one of his Grammy awards and a revealing self-portrait. He spent nearly an hour listening intently to the unworldly music of the gamelan.
“This is the most beautiful space on Long Island now,” rhapsodizes Alaleh Ostad, a local artist and museum member.
If history is more your speed, then the show includes a manuscript by Paganini and masterworks of art by Edgar Degas, Juan Gris, Edouard Vuillard, Lyonel Feininger, Henri Matisse, David Hockney, Romare Bearden and Jasper Johns.
Like music itself, the exhibition is global, bringing together not only the greatest of Western classical music, including paintings and sculpture created to the soundtrack of Bach and Beethoven, but the instruments and art of cultures from Africa and Australia to Asia and South America, including an important selection of Japanese woodblock prints alongside the instruments depicted as well as the talking drums of Africa, a Middle Eastern oud, and harps, flutes and string instruments from all along the Silk Road, many of which will be played during the many concerts and lectures programmed during the run of the show.
Many of the most exciting Contemporary artists whose work is inspired by music are included in this ground-breaking exhibition, including Idris Khan, John Cage, Tim Rollins and KOS, Dorothy Dehner, Joan Snyder and Robert Wilson, whose video portrait of Lady Gaga as well as a prized selection of drawings from his stage work Deafman Glance will be on view. The giant, walk-in painting by Ben Schonzeit that wowed Soho in the Seventies when it won critical acclaim, The Music Room, will be on view for the first time in decades.
Programming for the show includes concerts, artist talks in the galleries, lectures and a director’s seminar series held in his private office. A fully illustrated catalogue with essays by the curators and a musical score composed on commission is available. The catalogue was made possible with an anonymous donation, and the exhibition is supported by a grant from the Claire Friedlander Family Foundation.
—Written by Charles A. Riley, who is the museum director at the Nassau County Museum of Art