I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Dallas Museum of Art’s new exhibition, Coastlines: Images of Land and Sea. Part of me thought the topic too generic. The idea of arranging paintings by a topic may also result in an incongruent assembly. I could say neither of those proved to be concerns, but it would be more accurate to say the show was so engrossing, its concept and assembly were the farthest thing from my mind.
The paintings and photographs in this exhibit are substantial, however it’s not only the works of art that make this show great. It’s also the selected poetry displayed with the paintings and the sophisticated sound installation that accompanies the images.
T0 accomplish this the Dallas Museum of Art collaborated with students and faculty in the Arts and Technology program at The University of Texas at Dallas, along with sound design students from the Université du Sud Toulon-Var in Toulon, France. The result is what the museum calls a unique response to the works of art on view and says their groupings within the exhibition and has been conceived to support the immersive qualities—intellectual, psychological, and sensorial.
It’s all true.
The soundscape includes three synchronized layers. A global soundscape audible throughout the exhibition contains musical elements shaped by the natural sounds and rhythms of waves. Regional soundscapes respond to the thematic sections of the exhibition and serve as varied counterpoints to the global layer. Finally, local soundscapes represent sonic interpretations of twelve selected works of art, varying according to the visual content and context of the work, as well as the composer’s interpretation. These local soundscapes are projected from hyperdirectional speakers that allow them to be heard only from discrete locations, directly before the works of art to which they respond.
But that’s all too technical. It’s only after some time in the exhibit you notice the impact of the music and the poetry, should you take the time to read it.
It’s not the first time I’ve experienced sound in a museum exhibit. A few years back the Brooklyn Historical Society used it to add narration to photographs. While that was effective, Coastlines takes it to an entirely new level.
On view through August 22, Coastlines: Images of Land and Sea featuires 66 works of art in the Museum’s collections—paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, and photographs that depict how visual artists of the modern period (1850–present) have represented coastal landscapes.