Does Music Make Art Better? The National Gallery Thinks So

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 39 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