Facing The Music: Interview with Laurence Dreyfus

Earthrise Earthsel

Earthrise/Earthset, 2013, two watercolour and pencil on paper, each 74.2x55.5cm (Photo credit: Jens Ziehe).

Laurence Dreyfus ‘illustrates’ art pieces with contemporary music.

Independent art advisor and curator Laurence Dreyfus takes private shows to another level by ‘illustrating’ art pieces with contemporary music. Billionaire spoke to her about her collaborations.

Billionaire: How did you come up with the idea of aligning contemporary art to modern music?
Laurence Dreyfus: As a child I played the piano. During my teenage years, however, my piano teacher became essential to me: she helped me put emotions to each piece I studied. Raised as the eldest, I was locked inside, educated without emotions. As an adult, I turned to visual arts and worked as an assistant gallerist. Both disciplines have, by nature, always been tied together.

What was your first commission?
Ten years ago, working for New York’s Lincoln Center, I started looking into visual artists that could work with Norwegian pianist and festival director Leif Ove Andsnes. I genuinely believed music was all the more interesting when confronted with art. I suggested Bill Viola and Douglas Gordon, but both refused; I set my eyes on South African filmmaker and photographer Robin Rhode instead. Bringing a blond Norwegian and a black street artist together unleashed a world of contrasts.

Are the works of John Cage a reference for you?
Absolutely. When I studied art history, American Minimalism was a central focus: John Cage’s works inform the course of contemporary art itself. Cage created ‘silence’ as an art form: he is a musician of rupture, a cornerstone of 20th century art. On a day-to-day basis, I am always on the look-out for artists that are at a breaking point, that send a strong signal. Cage, in that respect, is the very first artist to concentrate on silence and recognise nihilism as part of life. He is a key figure in music and art.

How did you come to organise concerts around artworks?
Each time I curate ‘Chambre à Part’ — an art show presented during FIAC or Art Basel Miami First inside a hotel suite or private villa — I select art works that resonate with the spaces. Close to the format of a private exhibition, I thought I should add an emotional layer to the show, an experience that would last longer. Organising concerts is like adding an ingredient to the mix, and raising the level of emotions one can take in.

Where and how do you stage these concerts?
I set them up in Paris, London, Miami, Geneva or Gstaad for the moment, close to private collectors who have a unique point of view. It reminds me of the days when literary salons fostered cultural interactions.

Can you explain how you pair minimalist duos of artists and musicians?
It all starts around a conversation with pianist Mikhail Rudy. Rudy is deeply involved with visual arts: for example, he helped Philippe Parreno stage his solo show at the Palais de Tokyo and composed a soundscape. Like me, Rudy believes that music can highlight the visual nature of an artwork. Although the vocabulary of visual arts has no connection with the outside world, when pianists and conductors meet with artists, they always recognise a connection between disciplines.

Is this likely to be a field that is increasingly explored?
This is not a new phenomenon. A century ago, musicians and artists already helped to create unique ballets. Recently, Olafur Eliasson worked on the Tree of Codes ballet staged in Paris, London and Aarhus. Artist and pianist William Kentridge also imagined stage designs. Mikhail Rudy plays that role: he recently stressed the repetitive nature of Edmund de Waal’s ceramics installation using compositions by John Cage. Music runs through contemporary art; I choose to highlight it, and push it towards new boundaries.


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