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At High Museum, the Renaissance in Full Stereo

A new exhibition transform a Renzo Piano interior into that of the Florence Cathedral

The Wieland Pavilion at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta was designed by Renzo Piano, but its galleries will soon look and sound mostly like the Florence Cathedral, circa the 1500s. Wrapped in a photomural of the cathedral’s gothic architecture, the space will be transformed by a walnut lectern, a display of original choir books, and recordings of chants and psalms. “It will give you the opportunity to see and hear that Florentine experience, even if you haven’t been to Florence,” says curator Gary Radke.

Luca della Robbia, Trumpeters and Young Girls Dancing, 1431–1438. SCALA/ART RESOURCE, NEW YORK/COLLECTION OF OPERA DI SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE, FLORENCE

Luca della Robbia, Trumpeters and Young Girls Dancing, 1431–1438.

SCALA/ART RESOURCE, NEW YORK/COLLECTION OF OPERA DI SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE, FLORENCE

This immersive environment, titled “Make a Joyful Noise” and opening October 25, relies on more than just artistic illusion: the objects on display come from the cathedral’s illustrious organ loft. Known today as the Cantoria, or singing gallery, the loft has been installed at the Cathedral Museum in Florence since the 19th century. It features a series of ten marble panels that illustrate Psalm 150, which, as Radke points out, says to “praise the lord with trumpets and cymbals and dance.” It’s the first time these panels, carved in 1430 by the Florentine sculptor Luca della Robbia, have been shown in the United States.

Famed in his day for his carved Madonnas and flowers, as well as a secret glaze that renders the surfaces of his terra-cotta pieces virtually indestructible, della Robbia is recognized as one of the artists who “basically invented the Renaissance,” along with Donatello, Radke says. “His marble works, as represented by the Cantoria, so perfectly invoke the spirit of classical antiquity. What makes this exhibit unique is the full surround sound.”

A concurrent show of 16th-century music from the English church, by sound artist Janet Cardiff, will enhance the show’s sense of synesthesia, as will a series of live performances by local troupes and choirs, who have been asked to interpret the panels’ jubilant scenes. “A good number will use traditional instruments,” Radke explains. “But if they want to sing gospel in that space, that would be more than appropriate.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 38 under the title “The Renaissance: In Stereo.”

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