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Janet Cardiff: Forty-Part Motet Opens at Nelson-Atkins

 “Transformative, Moving” Sound Sculpture First of its Kind in Kansas City

Kansas City, Mo., Nov.1, 2016–The pure, ethereal sound of a choir singing a 16th-century piece of music begins quietly, gliding around visitors like ripples in a river before it builds to a glorious harmony that is transportive and achingly beautiful.  Janet Cardiff: Forty-Part Motet opens at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City November 19th. It is a sound installation by artist Janet Cardiff of 40 high-fidelity speakers arranged in an oval. Each speaker emits the recorded voice of a member of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir singing English composer Thomas Tallis’s most famous composition, Spem in Alium, which translates as “In No Other Is My Hope,” composed in 1556 and sung a cappella and in Latin. It is breathtaking in both its simplicity and its complexity.


“This intimate exhibition is a surprise, because it is music as sculpture and sculpture as music,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “Visitors will discover space and music in an entirely different way and have a meaningful, lasting experience through this soaring and transcendent performance.”

The 14-minute work continuously plays, and visitors are encouraged to walk among the speakers to hear the individual voices or sit in the center to experience the choral effect of the combined singers.

“I first heard Janet Cardiff: Forty-Part Motet over a decade ago in New York, and the experience has stayed with me all these years,” said Leesa Fanning, Curator of Contemporary Art. “Voices affect us emotionally, and music brings a sense of presence and spirituality. It is a pure and beautiful experience.”

Janet Cardiff: Forty-Part Motet has been seen in more than 50 international venues. The speakers in the exhibition are divided into eight choirs of five, each comprised of a bass, baritone, alto, tenor, and soprano. It was originally produced by Field Art Projects with the Arts Council of England, the Salisbury Festival, BALTIC Gateshead, The New Art Gallery Walsall, and the NOW Festival Nottingham.


The Canadian-born Cardiff works almost exclusively with sound and sound installations with her husband and partner, George Bures Miller. Cardiff is perhaps best known for her audio walks, which she first created in 1991 during a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Banff, Alberta. Her most notable audio walks include Her Long Black Hair (2004), which took place in and near Central Park, and Words Drawn in Water (2005), for the Hirshhorn Museum. Cardiff created her first video walk, Real Time, in 1999 in the library of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

Janet Cardiff: Forty-Part Motet runs through March 19, 2017.

Photo credits: Musée d’Art Contemporain, Montreal 2002. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Recording Session, Salisbury Cathedral Choir 2000, Photo by Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

This exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Canada. In Kansas City, support provided by H & R Block.
For media interested in receiving further information, please contact:

Kathleen Leighton, Manager, Media Relations and Video Production

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art