Going up the stairs of the old building of the Stedelijk Museum you can already hear Tino Sehgal’s new constructed situation at the museum. It’s a lovely singing voice that echoes through the building.
I search for the room where the singing takes place but in the room with the colourful Sol LeWitt wall drawing a guard walks up to me. He introduces himself, shakes my hand and says: “This Is Exchange, a work by Tino Sehgal from 2002”. He proposes if I would like to share my opinion on market economy in exchange for two euros. I accept his proposal and tell him it makes sense that the artist has selected this topic as he studied economics himself. The guard is not aware of that and we discuss the current economic situation in Greece. After five minutes he gives me a password, Candy, that I need to tell the cashier to collect my two euros. I answer that I think it would not be appropriate to be paid as Sehgal makes immaterial art so money shouldn’t be involved.
After my conversation I find a female museum guard singing in a room filled with wonderful Willem de Kooning’s including ‘The Springs’ and ‘Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point’. Each time a visitor enters the room she walks to the corner of the room and sings: “This is propaganda, you know, you know”. Then she turns to the visitor, looks him or her in the eyes and gently sings “you know, you know”. She stops and says: “This is Propaganda’, a work by Tino Sehgal, 2002”.
The credit is not complete as the text is the refrain of the song ‘Propaganda’ by Briskeby, a Norwegian pop band. I prefer Sehgal’s dramatic version though. The artist has hired amateur singers who were selected from an audition. (5 out of 100 were selected). The woman has a lovely soprano voice and emanates the sheer joy of singing. With her singing she is able to uplift the spirit of the visitors as she projects her voice beautifully and makes full use of the acoustics in room. Whilst she starts to sing to other visitors, I wonder if the curators considered to exhibit De Kooning’s work ‘Singing Women’ in the room which is also part of the Stedelijk Museum collection. Is it a missed opportunity or would it be explanatory?
The most accomplished form of singing is opera; these singers demonstrate what the human voice is really capable of, particularly in terms of vocal range, vocal weight, vocal timbre and register changes. As museums exhibit wonderful paintings or sculptures it can also be a place to exhibit wonderful singing voices.
Written by Thierry Somers
Willem de Kooning, Singing Women, 1966