Washington, DC—The National Gallery of Art announced today a new podcast series that explores the relationship between visual art and music: Sound Thoughts on Art. Journalist, author, and musician Celeste Headlee hosts the podcast. Each episode features Headlee in conversation with a musician who has chosen a work of art from the National Gallery's collection and responded to it using sound. Headlee also talks with a museum expert, who describes the work and provides art historical context.
The first three episodes of season 1, which feature works of art by Romare Bearden, Gordon Parks, and Nam June Paik, are available now on podcast platforms including Apple iTunes, Spotify and Google Podcasts. The National Gallery will release new episodes every other Sunday through May 30, 2021.
The pandemic-related closure of the museum in 2020 caused the temporary suspension of the long-standing Sunday concert series. Through Sound Thoughts on Art, the National Gallery will share new music with listeners and create opportunities to connect with our collection.
In episode 1, classical pianist and activist Lara Downes responds to Romare Bearden's collage Tomorrow I May Be Far Away (1967). Downes overlays different musical sources, digging into the history of Black music to build a "musical collage" in response to Bearden's work. She remarks on how differently the same person can interpret a work of art at different times. Steven Nelson, dean of the National Gallery's Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, describes the artwork and helps decipher what "far away" might have meant to the figures Bearden depicted.
The second episode features Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) responding to Gordon Parks's iconic photograph Washington, D.C. Government Charwoman (American Gothic) (July 1942). DBR sees pain, legacy, and enduring hope in this photograph of Ella Watson. In collaboration with performance poet Lady Caress, he imagines and hopes to capture the rhythms of Watson's life. The National Gallery's consulting curator of photographs Philip Brookman joins this conversation to shed light on Gordon Parks's relationships with both Washington, DC, and with Watson, his now-famous subject.
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Bora Yoon responds to Nam Jun Paik's video installation Ommah (2005) in the third episode of Sound Thoughts on Art. Yoon asks whether ancient traditions, sounds, and memories can live in us, even if we have never been to the places of our heritage—a concept she terms "cultural blood memory." She brings together traditional Korean instruments with her own eclectic electronic music in response to the work. The National Gallery's senior curator of modern art Harry Cooper provides context for Ommah and talks about the many ways in which Paik was ahead of his time.
Upcoming episodes will feature hip hop artist and activist Jasiri X and curator of modern art James Meyer responding to Kerry James Marshall's woodcut Untitled (Man) (2017); opera singer and composer Kamala Sankaram and associate curator Adam Greenhalgh responding to Mark Rothko's painting Untitled (1953); composer and indie rocker Rafiq Bhatia and curator of contemporary art Molly Donovan responding to James Turrell's New Light (1989); composer and indie rocker Emily Wells and senior curator of photographs Sarah Greenough responding to David Wojnarowicz's photograph Untitled (Falling Buffalos) (1988–1989); and jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer with the museum's chief architect Susan Wertheim responding to the East Building of the National Gallery, designed by I. M. Pei. Jazz bassist Christian McBride and composer and flutist Nathalie Joachim will round out the first season.
Visit our website to learn more. Listen and subscribe to Sound Thoughts on Art wherever you get your podcasts.
The National Gallery's first director, David E. Finley, founded the music department in 1942, keeping the museum open on Sunday nights for the armed forces personnel in Washington during World War II. Over 78 seasons the National Gallery has presented more than 3,000 free concerts to the public, inspiring and uplifting our visitors' spirits, providing opportunities for innovative musicians, and highlighting the intersection of the visual and performing arts. The National Gallery presents a broad range of ensembles, genres, and styles, from medieval through 21st-century classical music. In 1999 the National Gallery inaugurated the annual summer series Jazz in the Garden.