Editor Can’t Stay Quiet about New Exhibit at the Guggenheim

New exhibit leaves people in silence…

By Michael Sheridan

Arts Co-Editor

I think we can all agree that despite our love of New York, this city can be overwhelmingly noisy. When is the last time you’ve experienced true silence without a siren in the background, the rumbling of garbage trucks, or the shouting of people walking through the Walsh Gate (yeah that’s right, those of us on the lower floors of Walsh have to put up with you each and every night). Well, after vising the Guggenheim to see the solid gold toilet that I wrote about a few issues ago, it’s time to return to the museum for something even more spectacular.

The artist Doug Wheeler’s installation, PSAD Synthetic Desert III, which is described as a “semi-anechoic chamber,” allows visitors to experience near total silence. The room is covered with a material, known as BASF, which causes almost all outside noise to be completely drowned out, allowing the room to exist at a range of 10-15 decibels. To put this in perspective, the average New York City restaurant is 90 decibels, the subway is 80 decibels, and even what we would normally consider silence is only a mere 30 decibels.

I myself recently had a chance to visit the room and it was quite the unique experience. In order to keep the noise level as low as possible, only five visitors, with one security escort, are allowed in the room at any time. The group of visitors I was with got a brief explanation of the etiquette of the room first, as there are a few rules in place to keep the space as quiet as possible. All phones and electronics had to be stowed away before entering in order to prevent any unexpected noise (and also to prevent photographs from being taken as they are prohibited).

Finally, we were escorted through two hermetically sealed rooms which transitioned us into the final exhibition space, where we were allowed to stay for 10 minutes. My first impression was that the room was much smaller than I thought, although it was definitely visually interesting. The space was covered with geometric pyramids, also made of the same BASF material which kept the room so silent. It was also dimly light with a purple light to give off a very serene ambiance.

At first, I was completely underwhelmed. After listening to several people’s experiences of the room, I had extremely high expectations. However, my only initial reaction was that it was a quiet room. It didn’t even seem that quiet as I could hear water rushing through the museum’s plumbing.

The more time I spent, however, the more I really began to appreciate the work. It is so silent that I felt completely isolated from the outside world. I really began to relax and focus on just myself and my own thoughts. While I didn’t go so far as to meditate like some of the visitors, by the end I felt completely peaceful and relaxed, which was amazing as I had been stressed about several different things before entering. I became so engrossed in myself that in the final minutes, I realized that what I had thought was water rushing through the plumbing was actually my heart pumping blood through my body. It was a very strange sensation to experience. When our escort very quietly whispered that the ten minutes were up, it felt like she was shouting. After leaving the installation, I was more self-aware, and I noticed the noises I was making as I walked around much more acutely. I cannot wait for another opportunity to visit the space.

Entry to this installation is free with admission to the Guggenheim, however a timed ticket is required. Reserved time slots have been sold out through May and June tickets won’t be sold until May 1st. The best way to experience this piece is to get to the museum before it opens to wait in line and try and get one of the walk up ticket slots, which are offered every day the museum is open.

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