Sensory Crossover: Synesthesia in American Art
Modern living can often feel like a sensorial circus. And according to an excerpt at Sensory Crossover: Synesthesia in American Art, one of every twenty-three people experience what could be considered a heightened version of this spectacle. Synesthesia, the condition, as well as the exhibit, refers to a sensory crossover. For example, you could experience “colored hearing,” wherein a sound resonates not only in your ear but as a specific pattern of colors. In the art world, featured painter Georgia OKeeffe, who was not a synesthete but certainly willing to utilize such techniques, exemplifies synesthesia in works such as Jimson Weed [White Flower No.1], which elicits the cool, sweet reprieve of a desert evening “from a sun,” she describes in a letter, “that burns through to your bones.” OKeeffes extensive time in New Mexico “often register [in her paintings] the extremes of aridity, temperature and texture”¦transmitted through all senses, but often initially through the skin,” writes guest curator Sharyn Udall.
In a twenty-year process of connecting a thread of rare examples of synesthetic artists, like OKeeffe, her contemporary, Arthur G. Dove (whose piece Fog Horns could be considered the American prototype of synesthesia), and a score of others, Udall addresses and brings what she refers to as an “art historical gap in a selection of vibrant works”¦of distinct sensory crossovers ““ some celebrated, some previously unacknowledged as such” to the Albuquerque Museum. The Southwest might be ripe with opportunity and not at all an unusual place for artists who were “open to mystical experiences or the idea of letting their minds wander around the philosophical terrain,” Udall explains, though not an area exclusive to sensory crossover.
New York couple William Meyerowitz and Theresa Bernstein, synesthetically translate their passion for music in juxtaposing ways. Meyerowitz, though classically trained as an opera singer who performed with the Metropolitan Opera chorus, sketches in a more abstract approach despite the structure of the musical form displayed in The Overture, a glowing ember of “lyrical triangular forms.” Bernsteins work depicts a more literal scene, her Lil Hardin and Louis Armstrong or Charlie Parker figures easily recognizable, but the paintings pulsate and shimmer with all the vibrancy and unpredictability of the quintessential jazz concert.
Though perhaps counterintuitive, viewing Synesthesia, with its deliberate focus and rectitude of human perception, allows the brain to sift, isolate and make sense of our senses, not only in the relative quiet of a gallery space but in the everyday animation of modern life.
Check out the show the show at The Albuquerque Museum until January 2, 2011.