Murdered Crows, Adams’s West, Art Jamming: Lance Esplund

'The Murder of Crows'
An installation view of "The Murder of Crows" (2008-2012) by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. The 3-part, 30-minute sound work, at the Park Avenue Armory, utilizes 98 speakers, Cardiff’s recorded nightmares and an old gramophone through Sept. 9, 2012. Photographer: James Ewing/The Park Avenue Armory via Bloomberg

A soft pool of light beckons like campfire at the center of the darkened Park Avenue Armory Drill Hall in New York.

If you enter the vast space as I did, during a lull in Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s three-part, 30-minute sound installation, “The Murder of Crows,” the echoes and creaks of your footsteps will alert others to your approach.

A few people mill around in shadows, but most occupy some of the 60 wooden folding chairs arranged in a semicircle around an old card table, which supports a lone gramophone horn lying on its side like a wounded animal.

Propped on chairs, mounted on tripods, suspended from the ceiling and sitting on the floor are 98 audiophile-quality speakers which envelop you in a multi-track sphere of sound.

The Canadian team has created sound installations at times carnivalesque and Kafkaesque. Here 1970s rock-opera meets dream analysis, while Cardiff, as if under hypnosis, narrates her actual nightmares in which limbs are amputated and cats and babies are fed into killing machines.

Her gentle, tinny voice, like that of a soothsayer heard through a seashell, emanates from the gramophone.

Cardiff’s disturbing imagery and a soothing lullaby are accompanied by the sounds of orchestral music, waves crashing against the shore, wind, acoustic guitar, a marching band and cawing crows flying overhead.

Sigmund Freud would have a field day here with Cardiff’s dreams. But for the rest of us, this pleasant, underdeveloped yet overwrought work -- which mistakes sincerity for authenticity -- offers little to chew on.

“The Murder of Crows,” presented in association with the Mostly Mozart Festival, runs through Sept. 9 at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Ave. Citibank is the 2012 season sponsor. Information: +1-212-744-8180;

‘The Jam’

Further downtown is another layered, multidimensional exhibition. Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects has turned the typical summer invitational into a jam session, in which art, music, arts education and environment all interweave.

Drawing its title from the 1970s breakbeat funk hit by Graham Central Station, the show begins with a retro-psychedelic decorative gallery mural by Andrea Bergart and Matt Phillips.

A grouping of drawings and paintings -- figures, abstractions, flowers and Janice Nowinski’s transcription of a Boucher nude -- are installed.

The show’s finishing touch is a soundtrack by the talented Brooklyn chill-wave band Color War.

When I stopped by, the gallery had been further transformed by a drawing workshop led by Tara Geer, whose loosely tangled mixed-media drawings are included here.

“The Jam” is uneven. Its premise and execution are shaky. In the back gallery, however, a 1959 abstract painting by Alfred Jensen, backed by Color War’s music and Bergart and Phillips’s rhythmic Sumi-ink mural, put this show in the groove.

“The Jam” runs through Aug. 31 at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, 208 Forsyth St. Information: +1-917-861-7312;

‘Robert Adams’

For almost five decades, photographer Robert Adams, born in 1937, has been shooting the American West, specifically Colorado, Southern California and the Pacific Northwest.

His full-career survey of more than 200 black-and-white photographs at the Yale University Art Gallery chronicles the postwar progress of manifest destiny, as untamed wilderness is gradually blighted by suburban tract homes, mines, deforestation, fast-food chains, big-box stores and strip malls.

Adams is primarily a plainspoken documentarian with a great eye. He conveys suburban loneliness, the drama of gathering prairie storms and the promising emptiness of the plains.

There is no mistaking his political views. He presents a world deteriorating through development. Yet some of his images, no matter how appealing, lack a clear sense of vision, as if the artist is hiding behind the “objective” lens.

That said, there is not a single bad photograph here -- each one conjures aches for what is irretrievable.

A dozen or more masterpieces make it all worthwhile. They include pictures of a Methodist church, a giant Sitka spruce tree in Oregon, nighttime tree shadows playing across a garage door and a little boy peering at us from the back window of an old Ford pickup truck.

“Colorado Springs, Colorado” (1968), one of Adams’s early photographs, is also one of his most representative. It depicts a woman seen through the picture window of her ranch house.

Silhouetted, framed at the center of concentric rectangles, she appears to have been pinned there by an entomologist.

“Robert Adams: The Place We Live, A Retrospective Selection of Photographs” runs through Oct. 28 at the Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St., New Haven, Connecticut. Information: +1-203-423-0600;

(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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