Does Music Make Art Better? The National Gallery Thinks So

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 31 months ago
Does Music Make Art Better? The National Gallery Thinks So ★★☆☆☆ 2
View Cezanne's bathers from different angles and the music changes too. © The National Gallery, London
View Cezanne's bathers from different angles and the music changes too. © The National Gallery, London
A meditative view of Lake Keitele is accompanied by the chirruping of birds. © The National Gallery, London
A meditative view of Lake Keitele is accompanied by the chirruping of birds. © The National Gallery, London
St. Jerome in his study is now accompanied by an architectural re-enactment with no Saint and only his footsteps to be heard © The National Gallery, London
St. Jerome in his study is now accompanied by an architectural re-enactment with no Saint and only his footsteps to be heard © The National Gallery, London
A bizarre mash up as Pointillism meets synth. © The National Gallery, London
A bizarre mash up as Pointillism meets synth. © The National Gallery, London
Explore both sides of this diptych as the music leads you round. © The National Gallery, London
Explore both sides of this diptych as the music leads you round. © The National Gallery, London
Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors is well known for it's distorted skull so it now has a distorted soundtrack. © The National Gallery, London
Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors is well known for it's distorted skull so it now has a distorted soundtrack. © The National Gallery, London

Londonist Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The way we tend to experience paintings is in the quietude of a gallery with only the hushed whispers of our fellow visitors, but would the painting take on a new lease of life if it had an accompanying soundtrack? This is the question posed by the National Gallery's new and ambitious exhibition. Last time the National Gallery combined music with art, it was a mediocre affair so this time they've gone all out to try something radically different.

Six well known works from their permanent collection have had musical pieces composed to accompany them in an effort to provide new insight to the paintings. Even the concept is likely to divide people between the baulking traditionalists who think art needs nothing more than a fertile imagination to bring it to life, and those who think music could add something extra — and bring new visitors to the gallery.

It's a brilliantly-curated exhibition with all the light focussed on the works and dark soundproofed corridors ferrying visitors from one room to the next. But does the music deliver?

Our first encounter is with Lake Keitele — one of our favourite works, and the birdsong that can be heard is a nice touch as it brings to mind painting this scene outdoors. It's the perfect blend of accentuating the work but not distracting from it. Unfortunately the other works haven't received such deft treatment.

An architectural installation dwarfs the actual painting it's referencing so that St. Jerome in his study is almost forgotten about. Meanwhile speakers on either side of a Cezanne try to provide different music depending on where you stand but it failed to change our perception of the painting.

The strangest combination is the up-tempo synth track that accompanies the meditative coastal scene by Theo van Rysselberghe — it's a bizarre choice as the music feels more suited to a sci-fi movie.

There's a large part of us that wanted to love this exhibition for really pushing the boundaries of how to engage with art, it's something the National Gallery has delivered on in the past with their Michael Landy exhibition. But in this case the delivery is disappointing for all except one of the works, and the ticket price feels steep for what is essentially an experimental exhibition that fails to match expectations.

Soundscapes is on at The National Gallery until 6 September. Tickets are £10 for adults, concessions available. Next door at the National Portrait Gallery is the BP Portrait Award and an exhibition on Audrey Hepburn.

Nearby is the insightful Unfinished at The Courtauld Gallery, a London focussed prize for illustration at London Transport Museum and 100 years celebrating Ben Uri gallery.

Last Updated 08 July 2015

Sue

This topic was mentioned on the London BBC news this week and I thought then and still do that someone has got it terribly wrong and all those modern musicians, having been paid a hefty fee from the NG, are now laughing all the way to the bank.
Back in the 70's when food was allowed in museums, I nipped in from where I worked in the Haymarket to enjoy my lunch in front of my favorite Hans Holbein and in peace and quiet.
Why do so many people feel the need to bombard our eardrums with music or something that pertains to be called such? We have way to much of it in all the various documentaries on TV, most of which really doesn't enhance the subject matter and is more than often way too loud and a hindrance rather than aid. And then there's that awful noise piped through the telephone when you are waiting for someone to pick up your call. And didn't we all have huge discussions about the muzak in the elevators and lifts some years past?
And now they want the quiet of the museum filled with what I can only call 'noise'. I am a musician but have always had problems with the so-called modern classics. But then most art works from the same era are just as bewildering and I own up to finding them just so much nonsense and certainly not worth the price tags attached.
I could be terribly wrong but get the impression that most sound technicians and people who think we need more noise in our brains rather than less, are of the male gender. And yeap - you guessed it - I'm female!!
I have a bus stop across the road from my home and, on the odd moments I glance out of the facing window, I am appalled at the amount of people who are unable to wait for the bus without resorting to using their mobile phones. Do these people ever mull over ideas in their heads or spend time just thinking?
The museum musicians went to a s....t load of trouble to 'explain' what their sounds are supposed to do to our brains as we look at various works of art, most of which made absolutely no sense to me. But then I'm female so probably not meant to understand!!!
Please, please, museums of the world - leave us with our own thoughts and brain rumblings as we wander through your galleries. We truly don't need ANY form of auditory stimulation

Adele Leung

I always feel most of the music we listen to and the art we look at lead us somewhere. It wants to draw us into a particular emotion. The truth is music cannot make art better or vice versa, but music can feel to support the art piece if it does not challenge the direction which the art piece is bringing us. But music may feel confronting if the direction it is heading is obviously different to where the art wants to lead us into. Yet some may say that (the conflict) is art in itself.
Personally, I feel anything that leads me away from feeling connected to myself is harming.