After 43 years, Barbara London is leaving MoMA on October first. Over the course of her career as associate curator of Media and Performance Art, she has guided us over the expanding landscape of new media.
Her career began in the 70s when she founded the museum’s video collection, introducing works by Nam June Paik, Laurie Anderson, and Lynda Benglis. Over the years, she has consistently exhibited new work by Chinese and Japanese artists and pioneered Internet art at MoMA: in 2001 she produced the museum’s first website art commission, Tony Oursler’s Timestream, and in 1997 created Stir-Fry, a multimedia site mapping emerging media art in China. London has made a career of championing media and sound art, forms that continue to pose institutional challenges.
Her efforts culminated last month in “Soundings,” the first major sound exhibition to open at MoMA. London told GalleristNY in August that sound “has been hard to, well, understand in an institution that’s so visual.” How do you best exhibit work that has no long-standing tradition of display and how do you compel impatient viewers to sit awhile with time-based works? The exhibit’s diffuse approach includes conceptual drawings by the deaf artist Christine Sun Kim and a soundscape by Tristan Perich that shifts along with the viewer’s position. “I have always felt,” she said in an interview with Rhizome last week, “in all the years that I have been at the museum, that you will not be able to nail someone’s feet to the ground.” But London has come to terms with the fact that viewers may at first balk at– or lose patience with– a sound installation. She hopes that, in time, the experience will reverberate in the viewer’s future encounters with sound and shape a better understanding of non-visual art forms.
“Soundings,” which is on view until November 3, focuses on varied contemporary explorations of sound rather than forming a historical survey of the medium. “I’m always interested in what is going on,” she said to GalleristNY, “and what the current issues are.”
London is moving on from MoMA but will continue to explore current issues in art. Among her upcoming projects is the completion of a book on video and media art slated to come out in 2015.