Quiet reigns as Kaiser Chiefs’ smash hit York Art Gallery exhibition wins award

A Quiet moment: Kaiser Chiefs, minus Ricky Wilson, who was ill that day, launch When All Is Quiet, their ground-breaking collaborative exhibition with York Art Gallery, in December 2018. Picture: Charlotte Graham

OH my god, Leeds indie rock band band Kaiser Chiefs’ collaboration with York Art Gallery has hit the top spot in the prestigious Museums + Heritage Awards.

The cutting-edge exhibition When All Is Quiet: Kaiser Chiefs In Conversation With York Art Gallery won the Partnership of the Year Award at a Covid-enforced virtual ceremony, broadcast on M + H Awards’ Facebook and YouTube channels on Tuesday night.

The Kaisers’ audio-visual show drew more than 25,000 people to its run in the Madsen Galleries from December 2018 to March 2019.

At the invitation of York Art Gallery curators, the Leeds band took on the pioneering challenge of exploring the boundaries between art and music, using the gallery collections as a starting point.

Anna Preedy, director of the annual Museums + Heritage Awards, said of the award-winning exhibition: “Collaboration is increasingly important and here we have a project which is the definition of a true partnership, achieving something which neither York Art Gallery nor Kaiser Chiefs could not have done on their own.

From Riot to Quiet: Kaiser Chiefs swap raucous gigs for contemplative art in York Art Gallery. Picture: Anthony Chappel-Ross

“Their collaborative project, When All Is Quiet, was bold in its creativity and hugely inspiring – a very worthy winner.”

Reyahn King, chief executive of York Museums Trust, said: “We’re thrilled to have won this award. The exhibition was bold and brave in its approach, with our curators and Kaiser Chiefs working closely to create a unique experience which presented our collections in new and innovative ways.

“It was fantastic to work in partnership with them on the project and to create something which proved so popular with a wide range of audiences.”

Suitably upbeat Kaiser Chiefs drummer Vijay Mistry enthused: “Wow! Thanks so much for this award; it’s really greatly received, especially at this challenging time. “We knew that we had created something unique and special and it’s amazing for that to have been recognised. Huge thanks to York Art Gallery for the collaboration and massive thanks to everyone involved; your contributions were priceless.”

York Art Gallery and Kaiser Chiefs were shortlisted for the Partnership of the Year Award alongside: Royal Collections Trust, Barber Institute of Fine Arts and University of Birmingham; Lichfield Cathedral; Oxford University Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) and Iffley Academy Partnership and National Galleries Scotland and North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership.

Riot of colour: Kaiser Chiefs’ Nick “Peanut” Baines, Vijay Mistry, Simon Rix and Andrew White bestride their When All Is Quiet exhibition at York Art Gallery. Picture: Charlotte Graham

What exactly was in the When All Is Quiet: Kaiser Chiefs In Conversation With York Art Gallery exhibition?

YORK Art Gallery invited Kaiser Chiefs to work with curators to re-examine the gallery’s collections, with a brief to explore the boundaries between art and music in an experimental way designed to appeal to a wide range of audiences.  

Using their position as musicians as a starting point, the band delved deep into the Exhibition Square gallery’s Fine Art collections and paired paintings with a Set List of songs inspired by the art.

Visitors were then able to view the artworks, while listening to songs chosen by the Leeds band.

Tuning in: A York Art Gallery visitor listens to Mercury Rev’s The Dark Is Rising, matched by Kaiser Chiefs to Jack Butler Yeats’s That We May Never Meet Again. Picture: Anthony Chappel-Ross

Kaiser Chiefs also brought together works by sound artists that had resonated with them while travelling. Among them were Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet, Mark Leckey’s short filmFiorucci Made Me Hardcore and Elizabeth Price’s Turner Prize-winning work The Woolworth’s Choir Of 1979.

Inspired to design their own art installation, the Kaisers used light, colour and lyrics from the songs on the Set List to create Silent Gig, an immersive environment that offered visitors a reconfigured experience of a live music show and its elements but without sound.

When All Is Quiet increased visitor numbers by 39 per cent, by comparison with the same period the year before. Overall, more than 25,000 people visited during what is a traditionally quiet time of year for York Art Gallery, with more than 45 per cent of viewers being aged 18 to 44, an increase of nearly 15 per cent on the 2018 average.

Got it licked: Kaiser Chiefs, in tandem with York Art Gallery, win the Partnership of the Year Award at the Museums + Heritage Awards

Charles Hutchinson’s guided tour of When All Is Quiet, in conversation with Kaiser Chiefs members Simon Rix and Vijay Mistry. First appeared in The Press, York, on December 14 2018. Courtesy of The Press, York

MOVE over Andy Warhol. Here comes the new Pop Art in the form of When All Is Quiet, Kaiser Chiefs In Conversation With York Art Gallery.

Using their position as pop musicians as a starting point, the chart-topping Leeds band have co-curated an experimental exhibition, the first of its kind.

“We are not artists, we are musicians, and so we’ve chosen to use this opportunity to work with the gallery to explore sound as a medium – our medium – and to open that up further for us and for the viewer/listener,” said the Kaisers en masse. “To stretch ourselves, to explore the edges between music and art, creation and performance.”

Band members Simon Rix, Vijay Mistry, Nick “Peanut” Baines and Andrew White attended Thursday’s launch (13/12/2018) but singer Ricky Wilson was absent through illness, although plans are afoot for Wilson to “do something” in January. Watch this space.

Working in tandem with York Art Gallery staff, Kaiser Chiefs have created an exhibition with three interlinking elements. Firstly, they have brought together works by internationally regarded sound artists Janet Cardiff, Mark Leckey and 2012 Turner Prize-winning Elizabeth Price, who have inspired the Kaisers to look at sound in new ways.

Exhibition centre-piece: Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet in the central Madsen Gallery at York Art Gallery. Picture: Anthony Chappel-Ross

The main gallery space has been given over to Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet, which allows you to walk through an oval of speakers to hear a reworking of Thomas Tallis’s Elizabethan work Spem In Alium Nunquam Habui, from the singers’ perspective, as witnessed through 40 individual speakers, one for each voice from the Salisbury Cathedral Choir in 2001.

The band selected Cardiff’s sound installation on account of its relevance to how they hear their own music while performing: “an all-encompassing space of sound”, as they put it.

Secondly, in the Kaiser Chiefs Take Over York Art Gallery’s Collection room, the Kaisers have chosen 11 artworks from York Art Gallery’s collections, spanning 1798 to 2013, from LS Lowry and John Hoyland to Jack Butler Yeats and Bridget Riley, and an accompanying Set List song to be heard on a headset while looking at the picture.

Along with the likes of The Kinks, Kavinsky, Mercury Rev and Super Furry Animals is the 2011 Kaiser Chiefs song that gave the exhibition its title, When All Is Quiet, here bonded with Leeds artist Rebecca Appleby’s Sketch For The Disrupted Expectation.

Thirdly, the band have commissioned a new installation, Silent Gig, that uses light and colour and projected lyrics from the Set List songs to create an immersive environment to offer visitors a reconfigured experience of a live music show, without sound.

Take a bow, Kaiser Chiefs’ lighting designer Rob Sinclair, who also worked his magic on David Byrne’s American Utopia Tour show, as seen at Leeds First Direct Arena on October 21 [2018]. Utilising 73 lights and two tons of equipment, it took two days to build and three days to light, but its silence will certainly be a conversation piece.

Kaiser Chiefs’ Nick “Peanut” Baines, Vijay Mistry, Simon Rix and Andrew White in the Silent Gig installation at York Art Gallery. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“The feeling of euphoria at a gig can come just as much from the production as the song,” says Simon Rix.

Look out for a black door – last seen floating in an ocean in the My Life promo – from a series of Kaiser Chiefs pop videos and Sarah Graham’s Kaisers Rock!, the original cover artwork for the Kaisers’ 2012 album, Souvenir, loaned by owner Marc Macintosh Watson after he heard about the York show.

“We were making our new album [Duck, subsequently released in July 2019] and this exhibition at the same time and the exhibition won the race by a long stretch,” said bassist Simon Rix at Thursday’s launch.

He and drummer Vijay Mistry have taken the leading roles in putting the exhibition together, although all the band have played a part, participating in project meetings with senior curator Dr Beatrice Bertram, while dynamic Scottish design company Acme Studios were commissioned by the gallery for the exhibition’s marketing, branding and merchandising, such as T-shirts, mugs and posters.

“When you come into York Art Gallery, the show’s branding runs throughout the gallery, all taken from the band’s own identity,” says Beatrice.

Dr Beatrice Bertram: York Art Gallery senior curator, who held project meetings with Kaiser Chiefs band members for When All Is Quiet

We found it difficult trying to talk about the show while it was taking shape, as it was hard to visualise how it would turn out, rather like I can find it difficult to talk about our albums before they’re finished, but it’s come together really well, all the little details,” says Simon.

“We had initially started looking at the gallery’s archives but were overwhelmed by the sheer body of work,” recalls Vijay.

“We thought, if we look through them all, they’re probably won’t be a show until 2030,” recalls Simon.

Instead, they drew up a long list of possibilities for the Kaiser Chiefs Take Over York Art Gallery’s Collection space, finally settling on the 11. “‘Yorkshireness’ and ‘Northernness’ were important to us, as a Yorkshire band, so that’s why we picked out Turner’s Fountains Abbey work and Lowry too, as we wanted to represent northern art,” says Simon.

“I’m most proud of linking Jack Butler Yeats’s That We May Never Meet Again with Mercury Rev’s The Dark Is Rising,” says Vijay. “I had that piece of music in my head when I looked at the painting, but I’d never owned a Mercury Rev record; I just knew the instrumental version; I sang it, but no-one recognised it, but then suddenly I thought, ‘It could be Mercury Rev’…and I found it!”

The Kaisers were particularly keen to give a give a first northern exposure to Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet. “Hearing voices through 40 speakers is an experience you can’t find anywhere else,” says Simon. “You can’t set up 40 speakers in your living room, but we thought it was a really contemporary sound installation that you could place at the heat of a gallery.” Best heard, by the way, when all around is quiet.

Rebecca Appleby’s Sketch For The Disrupted Expectation, paired by Kaiser Chiefs with…Kaiser Chiefs’ exhibition title song When All Is Quiet

The Set List

KAISER Chiefs’ “set list” of songs chosen in response to works from York Art Gallery’s collection that reference creation, production or performance were:

Bridget Riley’s Study 4 for Painting With Two Verticals, paired with Julia Holter’s Sea Calls Me Home

L S Lowry’s The Bandstand, Peel Park, Salford; The Kinks’ The Village Green Preservation Society

John Golding’s H.19 (Canticle); The Beach Boys’ Caroline No

Jack Butler Yeats’s That We May Never Meet Again; Mercury Rev’s The Dark Is Rising

Oliver Bevan’s Flickering Grid II; Super Furry Animals’ Pan Ddaw’r Wawr

JMW Turner’s The Dormitory and Transept of Fountains Abbey – Evening; Talking Heads’ Love – Building On Fire

Peter Leonard Donnelly’s Red Plot; Kavinsky’s Nightcall

Malcolm Hughes’s Study No 3; Plastic Bertrand’s Ca Plane Pour Moi

John Hoyland’s Pact; The Cure’s A Forest

Bryan Wynter’s Under Mars; Adam & The Ants’ Prince Charming

Rebecca Appleby’s Sketch For The Disrupted Expectation; Kaiser Chiefs’ When All Is Quiet

Picture the green scene: Kaiser Chiefs line up in shadow play to promote their exhibition at York Art Gallery. Picture: Charlotte Graham