Make some noise

Olivia Weinberg | July/August 2015

In most museums and galleries, sound is pooh-poohed. The ping of a mobile phone brings a scowl; a mere giggle can prompt a prod from the security guard. The only sound that is welcome is the sound of silence. So the National Gallery is about to break a mould. “We want to give people a punch in the stomach,” says Minna Moore Ede, curator of “Soundscapes”, an immersive show that sets art to music in a bid to jumble our senses. “It’s about the converging of two worlds. You begin to hear the music in the visual, and, as a result, you start to see the visual in the music.”

 She has asked seven musicians to pick a painting from the permanent collection and make a soundscape based on it. Nico Muhly, who writes opera and ballet scores and chamber music, chose “The Wilton Diptych”, c.1395-99 – a stunning portable altarpiece made for King Richard II. His response is a 40-minute composition that guides you through the artwork. “Halfway through, there’s a soft tinkling noise,” says Moore Ede. “It’s the angels.”

Gabriel Yared, who won an Oscar for scoring “The English Patient”, chose Cézanne’s “Bathers” (above), c.1894-1905. Rather than bring the painting to life, Yared wants to make us feel we have climbed right into it. He lines the room with speakers that spurt voices and orchestral chimes, filling the space with the murmur of the Mediterranean. Jamie Smith, of the art-rock band The XX, makes an electronic reading of Théo van Rysselberghe’s “Coastal Scene”, c.1892, that should be as hypnotic as the painting itself.

Gallery walls tend to get smothered with chunks of art history. Here, information is toast, and the music won’t even be on iTunes – a smart move for a show that relies on emotion and intuition. “I want people to connect with the space,” Moore Ede says. “I want the experience to be overwhelming, engulfing, visceral, in the way that painting is meant to be.” ~ Olivia Weinberg

Soundscapes National Gallery, London, July 8th to Sept 6th


Exhibitions at a glance

Yours Sincerely, John S. Sargent (MFA, Boston, July 25th to Nov 15th). More of a biography than an art-history lesson, this show explores Sargent from the inside out, through letters, photographs, sketches and his love of Monet.

Caro in Yorkshire (Yorkshire Sculpture Park, July 18th to Nov 1st). Anthony Caro (1924-2013) made big bold sculptures, but his early figurative drawings have the same energy, along with a tender delicacy.

Wolfgang Tillmans (National Museum of Art, Osaka, July 25th to Sept 23rd). Tillmans was the first photographer to win the Turner prize (in 2000), and you can see why. His style is all his own – informal, honest, at times uncomfortable.

Scottish Artists 1750-1900: From Caledonia to the Continent (Queen’s Gallery, Edinburgh, Aug 6th to Feb 7th). The first exhibition of Scottish art from the royal collection. Expect stately colossi, plus smaller pieces commissioned by George III, Victoria et al.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s the Time (Guggenheim, Bilbao, July 3rd to Nov 1st). Half graffiti, half scribble, Basquiat’s sketches are snapshots of his conscience. With his layers of meaning and emotion, unique iconography and intense colour inspired by his Afro-Caribbean roots, he is a true giant.

A Golden Age (Kunsthaus, Zurich, Aug 28th to Nov 29th). A set of Dutch masters, partly from a private Zurich collection: small but perfectly finessed.

Dick Bruna – The Artist (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Aug 27th to Nov 15th). Creator of Miffy, the lovable little bunny who transcends time, Bruna was inspired by Matisse, Léger and De Stijl – all represented here, with Calder and Picasso.

Threads of Power: 16th-century tapestries (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, July 14th to Sept 20th). Renaissance tapestries were a symbol of power and wealth, displayed in court to mark important events. This should be an extraordinary selection.

Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon (National Portrait Gallery, London, July 2nd to Oct 18th). Who needs an excuse to look at one gorgeous image after another of the world’s most beautiful woman? ~ OW

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