Dreams and Reality: Masterpieces of Painting, Drawing and Photography from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris at the National Museum of Singapore
The several hours of talking loudly down the line to folks in India were thankfully balanced by a more peaceful evening of Claude Debussy, with Melvyn Tan on the piano at Dreams & Reality: Music at an Exhibition (Dreaming Debussy), at the Singapore National Museum.
Amongst the Musée d’Orsay loans, curated in an exhibition titled “Dreams and Reality: Masterpieces of Painting, Drawing and Photography from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris“, he put the ivories to work on:
Debussy – Suite bergamasque
• Clair de lune
Debussy – Préludes Book 1
• Danseuses de Delphes
• Le vent dans la plaine
• «Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir»
• Les collines d’Anacapri
• Des pas sur la neige
• Ce qu’a vu le vent d’Ouest
• La fille aux cheveux de lin
• La sérénade interrompue
• La cathédrale engloutie
• La danse de Puck
The acoustics were surprisingly good – you could hear every nuanced note on the Steinway despite the airiness of the venue, providing the aural intimacy of a salon. Being someone who hears in shapes and colours, it was a special treat to listen to Debussy while gazing at (one of) Monet’s “Lady With Parasol” – evoking the colours, sunshine, and summer breeze i’ve somehow come to associate with Claude.
But it was difficult to sit still with all the rest of the paintings yet to be viewed. Happily, we had the gallery to ourselves after the performance. A curious mix of work. All curation is interpretation of course, as are programme notes. And one attempts to create some coherence from the material at hand.
However, having repeatedly been the subject of such unwarranted enthusiasm, i’m particularly leery of any third-party pronouncement of the meaning behind a piece of art or music, even the assumption that it is a reaction to the zeitgeist of the day. As far as i understand it, sometimes, you feel a painting coming on and just paint whatever’s infront of you or on your mind, or you are just larking around with a tune and suddenly it fits.
It was very useful, though, to have representative paintings from a certain period of time in human history in one place; snapshots of an era. It is even more useful to know what comes before and after an era – knowledge of the past should make us more humble: there is nothing new under the sun; the pendulum of human history swings back and forth from one extreme to another, building upon or reacting to what came before. Confronted with such a broad vision of humanity, we should then resist being blinkered by myopia of the present (eg. rebelling against institutions (all status quo being institutional) without understanding how they came to be and why they were put in place in the first instance, or without realising the predictable consequences of our naive idealism). After all, today’s rebels are tomorrow’s institutions.
But of course, all history too is biased. And it is not necessarily written by the victors alone (since conspiracy theorists, random speculators, activists for perceived victims, historians who want to present a fresh exciting paper at the next conference etc have always had their say).
Two things occurred to me that night: (1) when God is described as eternal, it means, amongst a host of other things, that he alone stands outside human history and has a holistic view of it and is therefore in the best position to tell us what’s going on (of course, he’s also Creator of the world so he controls it too); and (2) Jesus is described as the Word because he alone tells us what God knows, accurately, not by a drawing or through music or dance, but in words. So when we testify, it should mainly be in words too, so that the content of our communication can be understood. (This makes the lyrics to the current earworm, Avalon’s Testify To Love, somewhat suspect.)