NOT I: Throwing Voices (1500 BCE–2020 CE)

American ventriloquist Edgar Bergen once described his colleague Valentine Vox as a dishonest ventriloquist because he did not move his lips when he performed. Bergen’s distrust highlighted an obvious but elusive aspect of this art: ventriloquism is about revealing a voice as much as it is about concealing it.

Issues of identity, embodiment, performance, and objecthood are at the core of even the most conventional ventriloquist sketch: Where is the voice coming from? How is that voice split into many bodies? Whose voice is this? Who is speaking on behalf of whom?

Drawn primarily from LACMA’s encyclopedic collection, the exhibition considers ventriloquismas both a theme and a methodology integral to the logic of institutions devoted to the dissemination of knowledge, namely museums and libraries. Using this popular form of entertainment as a structuring device for the exhibition allows for cross-collection discussions of representations of sound and text, and the misalignment of voice and body.

Arranged in ten nonsequential sections, the exhibition features more than two hundred objects spanning more than thirty-five hundred years to offer various degrees of ventriloquized voices, from the literal to the liberal. NOT I includes a special project by Meriç Algün in collaboration with the Los Angeles Public Library, as well as commissions from artists Raven Chacon, Patricia Fernandez, and Puppies Puppies (Jade Olivo Kuriki).