Harry Bertoia may be best known for the Diamond chair, an airy icon of sculptured wire. But last week, New York’s Museum of Arts and Design debuted two exhibits showcasing some of the Italian-born sculptor and designer’s less familiar talents: his jewelry and his forays into sonic art.
In the early 1940s, when wartime rationing forced him to finesse his metalsmithing on a small scale, Bertoia crafted hundreds of decorative pieces with melted-down scraps of metal. Bent, Cast, and Forged: The Jewelry of Harry Bertoia features these investigations of form and material—mostly produced while he was a student attending Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art— alongside several monotype prints.
The other show, Atmosphere for Enjoyment: Harry Bertoia’s Environment for Sound, documents the designer’s 1960s and ’70s exploration of the relationship between sculpture and sound. Fascinated by the range of tones that emerged when pieces of metal hit metal, Bertoia created dozens of what he called sonambients: interactive, kinetic bundles of metal rods that produced tones when agitated by wind or human touch. He ultimately produced 11 LPs of the music drawing on material from the 400 or so tapes he made.
The exhibit also features an immersive four-channel sound installation that John Brien created with Bertoia’s recordings.
Several interactive sonic sculptures made by the subject’s son Val add to the exhibit’s visual and aural appeal.