Art of Noise: SFMOMA's new immersive, sound rich exhibition a destination for music lovers

Art of Noise exhibition at SFMOMA. May 1, 2024. 

San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is holding a free community day this Saturday and it's not just a feast for the eyes, but also the ears.

That's because the museum's new, sound-rich, ‘Art of Noise’ exhibition is making its debut. 

Boasted as the largest exhibition of design the museum has ever executed, this collection is an elaborate, immersive space that looks at how we've listened to music over time, but it also examines how the sonic experience has evolved. 

This is definitely a museum trip made for music lovers. 

Image 1 of 8

'Art of Noise' exhibition at SFMOMA. May 1, 2024. 

The sheer volume of album covers, concert posters, rave fliers, psychedelic ballroom and club ephemera is quite striking. 

"To see 500 of these posters at once is really quite a special experience," says Joseph Becker, associate curator of architecture and design at SFMOMA. "This is an exhibition that really focuses on the visual artifacts of our shared musical experience." 

Rock's pantheon from another era plasters the walls. The Turtles, The Byrds, Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs are one eyeful, but if you keep looking, you'll see Aretha Franklin, James Brown, The Beatles and San Francisco's own Grateful Dead prominently displayed.  

The posters, Becker says, were gifted to the museum in the '90s, some 500 of them at once.  

Many advertised San Francisco concerts that were held at the Fillmore Auditorium, The Avalon and Winterland Ballroom from the heyday of the 1960s ballroom circuit. 

In all, there are more than 840 objects in the show, so it's not all posters. 

The exhibit shows that design has shaped our relationship with music over the last 100 years and, "how we've listened to music and the tools and and technology and the evolution there," Becker says. 

A mesmerizing array of phonographs, record players, turntables, radios, boomboxes, hand-held devices, and stereo gear in general, are enough to make an audiophile drool. 

Becker says 'Art of Noise' explores the impact of music and how it's embedded in our lives. 

Yuri Suzuki, Arborhythm

Visitors are invited to see this firsthand. One example is a whimsical, yet functional, sound sculpture by a Japanese artist.  

Electronic musician and sound artist, Yuri Suzuki, designed the colorful sound sculpture called Arborhythm for the exhibit. The sculpture doubles as a communal listening space. Museum officials say this fulfills their longtime ambition to activate the SFMOMA terrace. 

Suzuki says the piece was inspired by the ambient sounds he heard during the lockdown period of the COVID pandemic while living in Great Britain. 

It was a time when the world stood still. And for Suzuki, staying in one place meant listening to repetitive industrial sounds. This can be heard in his hollow, eerie and sometimes shrill, droning sculpture. 

"You can sit and meditate," Suzuki says. 

He says he incorporated colors that are iconic to San Francisco; the international orange of the Golden Gate Bridge, and a hue of green that evokes the Bay Area's iconic verdant hills, lush from a season of abundant rain. 

Image 1 of 10

'Art of Noise' exhibition at SFMOMA. May 1, 2024. 

Devon Turnbull, who goes by the creative pen name, OJAS, built a larger-than-life listening room designed specifically for SFMOMA. Here you can really embrace the deep-listening experience with three massive speaker cabinets maximized for audio playback. Turnbull's HiFi Pursuit Listening Room Dream No. 2 is exemplary of his 20 years worth of working on handmade audio equipment. 

It's a case of form following function.

At a press preview event, he geeks out about high-efficiency speakers, tube amps and how electricity controls physical objects. "To me, this is all just magic," Turnbull says. What goes on inside a turntable cartridge is still a source of wonder for him. The needle physically vibrating over the record's groove is how you can hear subtleties like a person's breath on the record, he beams. 

What he's built here is an entire space dedicated to listening to music. "Music taps into your soul," he says. 

He played a few selections on the hi-fi stereo, including a song from Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus. A giant subwoofer at the center of the setup almost serves as an auditory illusion. It only plays low frequencies. Most of what we hear is pumping out from speakers with tweeters. 

Image 1 of 10

'Art of Noise' exhibition at SFMOMA. May 1, 2024. 

"The way people set up music isn't geared toward listening to music," says Turnbull. While records play, he paces the room as if he were searching for the sonic sweet spot. 

He put on a Coltrane record to demonstrate the sound of improvisation. For a few minutes, everything seemed serene. He wants people to create a little shrine for listening to music. 

Image 1 of 10

'Art of Noise' exhibition at SFMOMA. May 1, 2024. 

"I think today it's very easy to take music for granted sometimes. We're able to carry around an infinite amount of music in our pockets," says Becker. 

But this exhibit reminds us of where we've come from. 

What's most important, he says, is that music comes in all forms. "There's no right or wrong way to do it," Becker says. "As long as you make time for music somewhere in your day." 

Free Community Day at SFMOMA, Saturday, May 4, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibition goes through August 18, 2024.

Andre Torrez is a digital content producer for KTVU. Email Andre at or call him at 510-874-0579.


Roller skate rentals in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park starts this weekend

If you've seen the roller skaters having fun along SF Golden Gate Park's JFK Promenade and felt left out, you can now get in on the action. Roller skate rentals at the park start this weekend.