The Nassau Exhibition is a love song for the art of music

What inspires you? If it’s art, music, video, rock stars, popular culture or even the sound of silence, then the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn has it. In a rare entire museum takeover, “Songs Without Words: The Art of Music,” which runs through March 6, fills every gallery with music-related paintings, drawings, photographs, scores, scripts, and instruments from around the world.

The exhibition, which was conceived and developed over more than two years by director Charles Riley and curator Jennifer Haller, brings together works from six continents spanning hundreds of years. There are photos of musicians; concert posters; paintings by Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Tony Bennett and Joni Mitchell; a sculpture by Paul McCartney; a work of art transformed into performance art by a pop star and a theatrical maestro; and a custom-built room-sized instrument.

Do not expect a concert, even if several are planned during the show. Rather, it is complex, sophisticated works of art – from Cubist paintings to iconic photographs – that are breathtaking, often funny and always related to sound.

“You have pockets in very, very quiet places, and then you’re lured into a room where there’s music,” Riley said, describing the exhibit.


One of these spaces enticed Long Island’s multi-Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb and his wife, Laura Savini, when they visited them in December. The couple, who lent several pieces to the exhibition – including a self-portrait of Webb and one of his Grammy Awards – resonated in Aaron Taylor Kuffner’s “Gamelatron,” a handmade kinetic sculpture. Brilliant circles of hammered metal reflect light from the museum’s grounds, while computerized, self-playing gongs fill the gallery with soothing, meditative sounds. It is a modern version of gamelan, an ancient instrument used for ceremonial and spiritual practices in Indonesia.

“I just found it amazingly beautiful to listen to, see and experience,” Webb said. “The room is exclusively devoted to this series of instruments, which are amazing. I could have been in there all night and just sat and listened to it.”

He added: “In these kind of tumultuous times where everyone is just a little nervous, it was a bit like therapy to go into that room.”


For a faster pace, rock and roll royalty are greeted in a sort of throne room, featuring Les Paul guitarist Keith Richards played when the Rolling Stones first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964 and Gibson “Flying V” Neil Young toured with early 1970s.

“Lady Gaga: Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière” is a life-size video by famed East End director Robert Wilson that demands a longer look. In it, Lady Gaga is disguised and posed as the subject of a painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. She moves easily and slowly (watch her eyes) – just enough for the viewer to perceive that this is a performance rather than a photograph. Riley noted that for hundreds of students who have visited the exhibit, this work seemed particularly captivating. Savini, a member of the museum’s board, agreed, noting: “It really shows how music has evolved into an electronic form, and we’re seeing how art can also become electronic.”

Such harmonies and echoes are careful curatorial constructions. “We have music as a building block of sound and a building block of time,” Haller said. “There are instruments along the Silk Road, things that the hands of craftsmen touched, and we tried to build how it resonates with the visual work.” She put together a playlist to bring the music to life, via QR codes at the museum and a link on the museum’s website.


One aspect that is meant to give visitors a break is a gallery dedicated to artists whose work caters to those who do not experience sound without hearing. “We knew from the beginning that it would be the sentence at the end of the sentence in the show. At the end of the sentence, the silence,” Riley said.

Look for pieces by David Hockney, Jasper Johns and rising art star Christine Sun Kim, who had a breakout moment at the 2019 Whitney Biennale and went on to perform the national anthem in American Sign Language at the Super Bowl 2020.

“It’s all here,” Riley said. “It’s loud, and it’s silent. It’s punk, and it’s classical. It’s world music. It’s like a giant jukebox. Whatever you want, put your neighborhood in. You’ll get it.”

WHAT “Songs without words: The art of music”

WHEN | WHERE Until March 6 at 11.00-16.45 Tuesday-Sunday, predetermined ticket entry required; Nassau County Museum of Art, 1 Museum Dr., Roslyn Harbor

INFO $ 15, $ 12 aged 62 and older, $ 5 students and ages 4-12, free under 4; 516-484-9338,


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