Art Quarterly, summer 2015 – out now

The summer issue of our members' magazine explores music and art, from Agnes Martin to Jamie xx. Editor Claire Wrathall reveals more.

This issue’s cover shows a work by Agnes Martin, the subject of a retrospective at Tate Modern this summer and also of Charles Darwent’s illuminating profile in Art Quarterly.

Though her medium was paint, for Martin the ‘best’ and ‘highest’ art was music: ‘It’s completely abstract,’ she wrote, ‘and we make about eight times as much response to [it] than any of the other arts.’ Hence Tate’s decision to complement the exhibition with a concert on 15 June entitled The music of Agnes Martin’s paintings and featuring suitably minimalist works by JS Bach, John Cage, Arvo Pärt and others.

Tate is not alone in celebrating the interrelationship between visual and aural art this summer. There is music at the National Gallery too: a project called Soundscapes: Listening to Paintings for which six composers or sound artists have created pieces in response to paintings in its collection. As Griselda Murray Brown writes in ‘Music to their eyes’, which looks at how visual artists have sought to represent music, it will be very different from anything staged there to date.

Among the composers the National Gallery has commissioned is Jamie xx, who is also collaborating with Olafur Eliasson and Wayne McGregor, on a performance piece, Tree of Codes, for this year’s Manchester International Festival, which he talks about in the magazine.

It won’t be the only event at MIF that celebrates the growing synergy between contemporary art and music. Witness the collaboration at the Whitworth (9 to 11 July) that it has finessed between the composer Arvo Pärt and Gerhard Richter, who like Agnes Martin, among several artists, has cited Cage as an influence.

Another high point of this year’s MIF promises to be Ed Atkins’ project Performance Capture. He is another artist for whom music is important. His video Ribbons, for instance, features songs by Randy Newman and Henry Purcell, as well as an extract from Bach’s St Matthew Passion, sung affectingly by the artist himself. In the magazine he can be found in conversation with Turner Prize winner Mark Leckey. Echoing Agnes Martin’s view, Leckey quotes Walter Pater’s line that all art aspires to the condition of music. ‘There’s something about music,’ he continues ‘that can be so obvious, so apparent, so immediate. It’s very seductive, and images should be equally seductive, but they can be so freighted with meaning and conditions that sometimes it’s impossible to enjoy them immediately.’

Not that art should aspire to be accessible, of course. But if music can help contemporary art broaden its audience, and indeed if visual art can help open a listener’s ears to new or challenging sounds, that can only be a good thing.

On another note, so to speak, though it’s probably a stretch to claim that Louis Solon found inspiration in music, his exquisite pâte-sur-pâte vases for Minton occasionally featured lyres. He is one of many artists whose works feature in the Minton Archive, the saving of which was the Art Fund’s signal achievement this past quarter. Paul Atterbury calls it ‘quite simply the greatest 19th-century industrial archive in Britain’. In the magazine, he tells us why.

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