Janet Cardiff’s sound installation The Forty Part Motet, currently on view at the Cloisters in New York City through December 8th, is a rarity—a revelatory work of art that can inspire busy museum-goers to stop, listen deeply, and even bring them to tears.

I sat through five cycles of the work myself this week, and I was far from the only visitor who spent more than an hour in the Cloisters’ Fuentidueña Chapel enjoying repeated listenings of Cardiff’s brilliant piece. A number of listeners wiped away tears, and many smiled to friends, strangers, or themselves. For the entire hour during the exhibit, and the hour following, I was too stunned and overwhelmed to speak.

Honestly, these were the kinds of reactions I had expected to see at James Turrell’s show at the Guggenheim this summer, but instead, I had to travel over 100 blocks uptown to find true revelation.

 

Janet Cardiff with The Forty Part Motet in Ottawa, Canada in 2001. The piece has been shown in approximately 30 venues around the world. (Photo by Wayne Cuddington via the Ottowa Citizen)

Janet Cardiff with The Forty Part Motet in Ottawa, Canada in 2001. The piece has been shown in approximately 30 venues around the world. (Photo by Wayne Cuddington via the Ottowa Citizen)

 

 

Janet Cardiff's The Forty Part Motet at the Cloisters (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

Like a religious service, Cardiff’s installation brings a small group of people together in a single space to share a communal experience, but with a notable exception: there are no priests or preachers, no music directors, confession booths, alter boys, or congregation. With the specific context of religion and hierarchical structure stripped away, what remains is a highly personal, aesthetic, spiritual experience. (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)

 
 

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