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Guggenheim Museum’s Doug Wheeler installation offers silent refuge from the sounds of NYC

In a crowded city, artist Doug Wheeler hopes to “induce a sensate impression of infinite space”

Guggenheim Museum

Manhattan isn’t exactly known for peace and tranquility, which only heightens the experience of West Coast artist Doug Wheeler’s immersive acoustic installation, running at the Guggenheim now through August 2.

It’s been a long time coming. Wheeler conceived of the plans for “PSAD Synthetic Desert III” in 1971, and now—nearly 50 years later—the piece has finally reached fruition. Inspired by his experiences in the vast and silent deserts of Northern Arizona, Wheeler’s abstract room-sized installation is designed to “minimize noise and induce a sensate impression of infinite space,” according to the exhibit copy.

Taking weeks to install, the work transforms a room (or rather, a “room-within-a-room”—as the Times notes, the chamber rests on gaskets to absorb “as little sound as possible from the structure of the museum itself”) into a profoundly empty soundscape.

Time Out New York explains the magic of the piece somewhat more bluntly:

The work consists of a viewing platform jutting into floor covered with rows of steep pyramids made of sound-dampening material (the piece is basically a high-cultural version of those semi-anaechoic chambers used by scientists and manufacturers to conduct acoustical experiments). Special lighting fools the eye into thinking the gallery is an endless space.

But while the experience will feel like complete and total silence, it won’t be as empty as it seems. “In a supersilent anechoic chamber, the most that most people can endure is about 40 minutes before they start going batty,” Wheeler said in a conversation with the show’s curators, excerpted by the Times. “I don’t want that experience. I just want you to experience something that you’ve never experienced before, and I think it will be elating.”

Since silence is difficult in crowds, each visitation group is limited to five people. Timed tickets—you can get up to 20 minutes in the space—can be reserved in advance, although walk-in tickets are be available for select times.