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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

Felix Schramm’s Turntable at SFMOMA (San Francisco)

If you didn’t snag a flyer on your way into the New Work space at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, you’d think a plane had crashed through the wall, and somehow the external shell of the building had healed itself.

The artist Felix Schramm, working with a set of constraints imposed by SFMOMA, has filled much of several upstairs galleries with Sheetrock constructions that force their way through one space and into the next. The result is like one of Lebbeus Woods’ impossible architecture drawings made real.

That piece is titled “Collider.” Schramm has one other sculpture on display: “Soft Corrosion” (2006), a busted hemisphere of wood and plaster, within which is placed a functioning turntable. (Photography isn’t allowed at SFMOMA; the following image is scanned from a handout made available at the museum.)

On that turntable is a record, which rotates at 16rpm to what SFMOMA curator Aspara DiQuinzio describes as an “irregular eclipse,” owing to a second, off-center hole that Schramm has punched into the vinyl. The record is Guitarrenträume in Gold, a collection of sentimental guitar melodies including “House of the Rising Sun” and “My Darling Clementine.” When I visited this past weekend, the player had already locked into the groove at the center of the record, and it didn’t so much fill the room as accent it with a low rumble of surface noise. DiQuinzio says in the handout, “The sound distortion heightens the experience of spatial disorientation that is central to Schramm’s overall practice.” With a mind to the chance inherent in Schramm’s constrained spatial and sonic play, DiQuinzio opens the handout with a full John Cage mesostic poem, based on the word “circumstances.”

There’s more going on technologically in “Soft Corrosion” than just a turntable hooked up to a speaker. A fairly complex bunch of electrical cords is packed inside the wood semi-circle, including an exposed bit of circuit board that turns the power to the record player on and off every minute or so.

Just down the hall from the Schramm is the entrance to a massive retrospective of related paintings and sculptures by Henri Matisse. The proximity might seem incongruous, even jarring, did the Matisse exhibit not open with this 1951 quote from the master: “I did not sculpt like a sculptor. Sculpture does not say what painting says. Painting does not say what music says. They are parallel ways, but you can’t confuse them.”

The Schramm is open through September 30. More info at sfmoma.org. I’ll be headed back at least once before the exhibit closes. Every day at 10am, noon, 2pm and 4pm someone resets the “Soft Corrosion” needle to the start of the record album.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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