Commissioned specifically for Dia:Beacon, where it was inaugurated on May 6, 2006, Time Piece Beacon (2005) creates a zone of sound around the perimeter of the museum. This zone is positive and negative, as it involves hearing the increasing sound as it haunts the building’s environs and then, the “silence” it reveals by abruptly ceasing. This is what the artist called a “sound signal in reverse,” a subtle sound that is noticed when it disappears rather than when it begins. This work belongs to a series inspired by a singular early project— a silent alarm clock, designed by Neuhaus in 1979. The device produced a drone that, growing from inaudible to a discretely haunting volume, would induce the sleeping listener to wake up as the sound shut off. Similarly, in Time Piece Beacon, Neuhaus devised a continuous, gradual sound tapestry pitched at the upper limit of natural ambient sounds of the area: “Initially inaudible, the sound will gradually emerge from the ambient noise and then will suddenly stop.” The signal thus becomes the “silence” that ensues after the cessation of the sound. As another reference that informed the series, Neuhaus recalled the unifying role of bells in early modern urban and rural societies, gathering the listeners audibly, but also delimiting the spatial perimeter of a community by means of vibrating, tactile sound resonance.
A pioneer in the fields of contemporary art and music, Max Neuhaus is credited with being the first to explore the role of sound as a primary medium in the visual arts. Unlike music, his works are never a succession of changing audio events in time, but continuous markers of “a site as a whole and the different places within it.” For Neuhaus, sound is the material he uses to “transform the space into a place.” Neuhaus explains that “trying to capture this work with a recording is as silly as chipping the paint off the canvas, putting it in a box and thinking you still have the painting.” One of a number of works from the Moment series, Time Piece Beacon is premised—as are all his works—on perception as a whole, involving sight and hearing and touch—in other words, the visitor’s physical presence.
For each project, Neuhaus makes a drawing-text diptych. This is what he calls a “statement in another medium,” although this statement is mixed since it involves a visual description and a verbal one. Whereas, in his drawings, Neuhaus experiments with possible graphic and chromatic solutions to visualize sound, his written notes reach surprisingly poem-like qualities.
In addition to the presentation of his work in numerous exhibitions over the past 40 years, today there are a dozen works by Max Neuhaus permanently installed in public and private venues. The two works in Dia’s collection (Time Piece Beacon and Times Square, 1977/2002, in Manhattan) are the only ones located in North America.