Riot of sound as rock takes on art

It was exactly 50 years ago, as the world reeled from a summer of violence and political turmoil, that the rock and art worlds met head on.

Kaiser Chiefs. Picture: Dani Beck

John Lennon and his new partner, Yoko Ono, released 365 white helium-filled balloons over London. The colour matched their outfits and the walls of the Robert Fraser Gallery in Duke Street that was the venue for their first exhibition.

Among the exhibits was a rusty bicycle made by students at Hornsey College of Art. Lennon and Ono called the show You Are Here.

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Since then, musicians as diverse as David Bowie and Tony Bennett have mounted exhibitions of their own art. But it has taken a gallery and a band from Yorkshire to take forward the former Beatle’s original idea of fusing the two mediums.

With political tumult swirling once more, Kaiser Chiefs, a rock band from Leeds, whose work includes the prescient I Predict a Riot, will take over York Art Gallery for three months from December for what is described as a “unique and experimental exhibition” of works by renowned musicians and artists.

Among the highlights will be what the band calls a “silent gig”, using light and projected lyrics to recreate the experience of a live concert.

“It seemed like an amazing opportunity,” said the band’s drummer, Vijay Mistry.

“It’s one of the pluses of doing what we do – every now and again, something will pop up that we hadn’t considered before, and this was one of those things.”

It had been the gallery’s idea to explore the theory of sinestesia – one of the senses being triggered by another.

“You see an image, you hear a song – that was the starting point,” said Mr Mistry. “But we wanted to stretch it further and explore how music can be used as art.”

Neither their three Brit Awards nor their Ivor Novello trophy had qualified the band’s five members to be curators, he acknowledged.

“We had never curated anything, either as a band or as individuals, so it wasn’t a case of us taking over.

“We saw it as an opportunity to work with the gallery and learn ourselves.”

The band’s technique was to pick favourite works in the York gallery’s collection and to match them with pieces of music – none of them their own.

JMW Turner’s 1798 watercolour of the Dormitory and Transept of Fountains Abbey, Evening, was matched with the jingly 1970s track, Love – Building on Fire by the New York band, Talking Heads.

Bridget Riley’s abstract painting, Study 4 Painting With 2 Verticals, will be seen to the backing of Sea Calls Me Home by the singer-songwriter, Julia Holter.

Mr Mistry said: “It’s something we would never have done individually but as a group I think we might just have created something great.

“We count ourselves as musicians and artists but it’s quite rare to get to explore something out of your comfort zone. When you’re thrown into this new world and you’re putting your name to it, you really want it to work.”

Jo Killeya, head of public engagement for York Museums Trust, which runs the gallery, said she hoped the collaboration would see its collections interpreted and displayed in an “original and inspiring way”.

She said: “Kaiser Chiefs offer us a distinctly different perspective on the creative process and a personal insight into the links between art and sound. They are masters of pop music and have explored our collections through the eyes of musicians, while hand picking works by artists who have pushed the boundaries of what art can sound like.”