Bertoia Sound Sculptures: Seeing what I hear

Announcement postcard for VHS video of Harry Bertoia Sound Sculptures. Performance by Val Bertoia. 2001

I never imagined the sale of the most exceptional and personal sculptures from the Bertoia sound barn. Nor could I imagine the astonishing results of the auction…though I understand and agree with the value placed on the sculptures.

I am not writing about the whys and wherefores of the Sotheby’s auction, nor the Harry Bertoia Foundation, other than to congratulate everyone involved, including the buyers. You paid for a Bertoia but got the equivalent of a Pollock; in the sense that you have acquired a master’s master and a manifestation of Bertoia’s DNA.

I am interested in sharing my own connection to the sound barn sculptures, not from the standpoint of the Harry Bertoia Foundation but from the perspective of the Bertoia Soundation, to use Val Bertoia’s playful term.

Just over 20 years ago, I produced a two-camera, 10-minute video. This particular Sonambient video, Harry Bertoia Sound Sculptures Performance by Val Bertoia, has taken on the added dimension of a historic record of the generation-long assemblage of the sound barn before it was dismantled for the Sotheby’s sale.

I had known Val a few years before making the video, when he entrusted me with several large and wonderful monotype prints made by his father. Visits to the sound barn led to our video collaboration. It also led to me gaining an appreciation and insight into Val’s sculptural work.

When I first moved to NYC I lived in Chelsea, about half a block away from Metro Pictures and two blocks from the Robert Miller Gallery. The latter, is the neighborhood gallery I went to most often. In 2000, it had an exhibition, Harry Bertoia Sounding Sculptures. It was the first time I had seen so many different types of Bertoia sculptures at once. I spent many afternoons at the gallery. It inspired me and helped me understand sculpture and space in a completely different way. I considered the movement of sound and vibration occupying a 4th dimension. It remains a formative experience.

The video we produced was initially available through the Bertoia Studio and on Amazon. A VHS transfer of the video has been on YouTube for years. The video posted below is from a DVD and hopefully looks a little fresher.

VHS Cover for video. 2001.

One of the gratifying experiences of producing the video occurred in 2001 when it aired on Thirteen/WNET New York, as part of a Metro Arts episode, which included the film, Frank Gehry: An Architect of Joy.

An even more affirming experience happened in 2004 when Val gifted a copy of the video to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Advisory Council for the Arts program in Los Angeles. The unusual, calming and meditative experience of the video is meant for patients to enjoy over the hospital’s network. In 2019, Harry Bertoia’s “Sheaf of Wheat” sculpture, on long-term loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), was placed in the Cedars-Sinai Healing Gardens. Proximity and synchronicity makes this a unique update between father and son…and a part of the Bertoia Soundation.

If you have not seen the video or if it has been a while, it’s here for you now. I hope it resonates with you in every sense:

Harry Bertoia Sound Sculptures Performance by Val Bertoia



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store