Edgar Degas claimed that the muses rarely work together, but “at night they gather and dance.” Earlier this year, The Shed, in New York, hosted what seems to have been just such a rare dance in the collaboration of two greats of contemporary creativity: Arvo Pärt and Gerhard Richter. The muses of both painting and music sought a return to their nightly dance in a mutual homage that the two veterans decided to give themselves on the premises of the brand-new museum.

From Richter, we thought we’d seen it all, or perhaps more appropriately, that he’d already done it all. His work has mapped, with a peculiar irony, the traumas of 20th-century wars. With some great audacity, he was able to use photographic support to create paintings in which any documentary “truthfulness” was called continually into question. Photographs of people and events took on, in their pictorial versions, the forms of mere evanescent dreams. Finally, in his most recent paintings, the pictorial matter itself seems to emulate, through successive overlaps, the ghost of a representation entirely annihilated.

The German painter’s corrosive vision may seem, at first, distant from that of a musician like Arvo Pärt, distinguished for his sacred compositions. The Estonian came to his definitive musical conception through a long and difficult process. A study of ancient music, and his own religious conversion, took him away from serialism and the twelve-tone technique so in vogue, such that he delved deeper and deeper into the roots of Western music. One thing particular to Pärt’s music is that it can be contemporary without giving up its mystical potency. Its popularity rests on the religious feeling Pärt propagates, coming not from a dogma, but from the primitive yearning for unity characteristic of the human heart.

In the performance conceived of for The Shed, Richter and Pärt put their muses to the service of the collective experience. Richter’s paintings have been reworked through a computer and plotted like tapestries. The result is imagery reminiscent of the symmetry of mandalas, and even acquiring the powerful presence of religious icons. The apparent distance in the work of these two colossal figures vanishes the moment we hear Pärt’s serene choral symphony. Emanating from singers camouflaged within the audience, the music sets the static colors to vibrating. Music and painting are paired in a gallery, and what seemed like mere compositions of shape and color become, even for a few moments, the sacred symbols of an eager transcendence.

Image: Pedro Ribeiro Simões – flickr

Edgar Degas claimed that the muses rarely work together, but “at night they gather and dance.” Earlier this year, The Shed, in New York, hosted what seems to have been just such a rare dance in the collaboration of two greats of contemporary creativity: Arvo Pärt and Gerhard Richter. The muses of both painting and music sought a return to their nightly dance in a mutual homage that the two veterans decided to give themselves on the premises of the brand-new museum.

From Richter, we thought we’d seen it all, or perhaps more appropriately, that he’d already done it all. His work has mapped, with a peculiar irony, the traumas of 20th-century wars. With some great audacity, he was able to use photographic support to create paintings in which any documentary “truthfulness” was called continually into question. Photographs of people and events took on, in their pictorial versions, the forms of mere evanescent dreams. Finally, in his most recent paintings, the pictorial matter itself seems to emulate, through successive overlaps, the ghost of a representation entirely annihilated.

The German painter’s corrosive vision may seem, at first, distant from that of a musician like Arvo Pärt, distinguished for his sacred compositions. The Estonian came to his definitive musical conception through a long and difficult process. A study of ancient music, and his own religious conversion, took him away from serialism and the twelve-tone technique so in vogue, such that he delved deeper and deeper into the roots of Western music. One thing particular to Pärt’s music is that it can be contemporary without giving up its mystical potency. Its popularity rests on the religious feeling Pärt propagates, coming not from a dogma, but from the primitive yearning for unity characteristic of the human heart.

In the performance conceived of for The Shed, Richter and Pärt put their muses to the service of the collective experience. Richter’s paintings have been reworked through a computer and plotted like tapestries. The result is imagery reminiscent of the symmetry of mandalas, and even acquiring the powerful presence of religious icons. The apparent distance in the work of these two colossal figures vanishes the moment we hear Pärt’s serene choral symphony. Emanating from singers camouflaged within the audience, the music sets the static colors to vibrating. Music and painting are paired in a gallery, and what seemed like mere compositions of shape and color become, even for a few moments, the sacred symbols of an eager transcendence.

Image: Pedro Ribeiro Simões – flickr