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Harry Bertoia is best known for his sound sculptures, which he called "sonambients." The first prototypes were made around 1960 in his barn-studio in Bally. The sound sculptures are comprised of vertical bunches of metal rods resembling cattails attached to a metal base. The rods are weighted to allow them to sway and create sounds when they make contact with each other. Such sculptures are meant for interaction, Bertoia explained: "I build sculptures that can move in the wind, or that can be touched and played, like an instrument." They are "tuned," each sculpture having a different sound depending on its construction materials, thickness of rods, number and shape of sounding elements, etc. Works of this type vary from several inches to over 15 feet in height, as is the case with the Gallery's sculpture, which is a characteristic example of this body of work. In order to preserve Tonal Sculpture for the enjoyment of future generations, the public is not allowed to handle it. But due to keen interest in the work and in keeping with the artist's original intent, the Gallery is pleased to provide a short video of the glorious sounds emitted by the interaction of the beryllium copper rods with one another as the sculpture is "played."


Bernard and Audrey Berman, Allentown, Pennsylvania; gift 1984 to NGA.


Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 29, repro.

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