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Sounds and Sights

Sampling / Christian Marclay

An examination of the relationship between sight and sound is at the center of SFMOMA's current Christian Marclay exhibit. Marclay, an artist whose career has spanned music and visual arts, seems to be gleefully challenging us to question what we are seeing as opposed to what we are hearing, and vice-versa.

The exhibit is comprised of two main pieces. One, Tape Fall, consists of a reel-to-reel audiotape device sitting atop a ladder. Not equipped with a pick-up reel, the machine constantly spills out tape, which falls gracefully upon a mountain of itself beneath the ladder. Also atop the ladder is a speaker, which plays the sound of dripping water ever so softly as the mountain grows with silvery black tape.

The second piece in the exhibit is a marvel of editing. Set in a dark room, Video Quartet is a celebration of music on film. Four separate screens show images, most of which come from Hollywood films, of people playing music. Each screen has its own sound, so when all four are in full swing, there is a symphony of musical excerpts. It's impossible to watch one screen without hearing the music from the others. At one point Jimi Hendrix is on the screen on the far left while a French Horn section is displayed on the far right. If you were to concentrate solely on the screen with the French Horns, it would be impossible not to hear Hendrix coming from them. Attempts to find clarity can be dizzying, as are attempts to figure out how long Marclay spent in the cutting room to get this piece as perfect as possible. The result of this visual and audio collage is a flowing, nearly symphonic arrangement. Small, quiet sections transform into pounding, almost angry moments of noise.

Overall, this is an exhibit that doesn't conform to any set of traditional art rules. It's a product of a life in music and film by the artist, and it should be seen while it's still here.

Sampling/Christian Marclay can be viewed up until July 28 on the fourth floor of the SFMOMA, 151 Third Street in San Francisco. Museum hours are Friday - Tuesday 11 am - 6 pm, and Thursday 11 am - 9 pm. More information is available at 415.357.4000 or at