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Local Artist Bill Fontana Unveils Latest Sound Sculpture at SFMOMA

Conceptual? Yes. Intelligent? Yes. Over my head? Yes. Local artist Bill Fontana is an international phenomenon and has been a pioneer of sound art for the past 40 years. Turning what we're accustomed to with visual art on its head, it is not what we see but rather what we hear that is Fontana's body of work. He calls it sculpture, but what you're looking at in his work is only an instrument that generates the desired effect. And this time around, the SFMOMA building itself is the medium for Fontana's latest site-specific sound sculpture.

Commissioned by SFMOMA as part of its 75th anniversary celebration, Sonic Shadows is the artist's first truly kinetic and interactive sculpture. It's a performance of sorts, in which the museum and everything in it, including visitors, play a crucial part. Here, Fontana is exploring the effects of ambient and live sound generated by specific spaces in response to building infrastructure, human motion, and weather. Heating pipes and plumbing, footsteps, and even raindrops are picked up by hypersonic speakers and vibration sensors and are recorded in real time to produce a captivating multisensory environment.

Make sense yet? If not, it may serve you best to experience it for yourself. Take the walk up to SFMOMA's turret bridge, look around, walk around, listen, and see if it becomes clear to you. Chances are you'll find me there trying desperately to wrap my brain around it.   

Sonic Shadows at SFMOMA November 20, 2010 through October 16, 2011; 151 Third St., sfmoma.org