One of my photos

Well Hung

November 21st, 2006 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

Last week’s concluding part of Tim Marlow‘s guide to the re-hang at the Tate Modern prompted me to go and have a look, as I realised that I had not actually been in the galleries since the re-hang. The last couple of times I went to the place I was looking at the building, Rachel Whiteread’s Embankment, and the dismantling of Embankment. At that time most of the galleries were closed for the re-hang anyway.

Bearing in mind that I fall squarely in that cliched camp of people who don’t know much about art but know what they like I did find the permanent collection a lot easier to take in. This may be because I had not had the benefit of two hours of Mr. Marlow’s explanations and descriptions before(three if you count the programme on Carsten Holler’s Test Site last month) but I do think everything is organised more sensibly now than it was.

Previously the Tate Modern had its four sections organised by theme, but now it is broadly by style or movement, which just seems better to me. I say ‘broadly’ because they have tried to break the whole of modern art into four groups, so quite a few different movements are shoehorned into one category.

First lets get Test Site out of the way. It looks a lot bigger and more impressive in real life than it does in pictures. The work itself is only half the story; seeing the punters whizzing down the tubes is what really makes it a spectacle. And what a lot of punters! I didn’t have a go myself. It looks like fun but I really didn’t fancy the queues.

What surprised me was seeing how much the slides wobble, given the size of the supporting girders, but it didn’t seem to put anyone off.

Test Site is a great crowd-puller, not that the Tate Modern needs it as it has always been packed whenever I have visited. (A lot of school parties – is it any quieter at weekends and holidays?)

Anyway, I headed upstairs to look at the permanent galleries, starting with Poetry & Dream – which is basically surrealism and related works. A good chance to see the couple of Dalis the Tate has, but also to properly see the large Jackson Pollock and Picasso next to each other. I had never registered the Pollock before (Man with Knife, or something like that). Until seeing it on TV I had assumed JP only did the splashy paintings.

I quite like surrealist paintings, and the whole Surrealism/Dada movement, although I think there was a missed opportunity with the Susan Hiller work from the Freud Museum. It is a whole wall of brown cardboard boxes containing strange items, many of them just commonplace ephemera. They are supposed to lead the viewer to assign his own meanings and connections. I just thought how much more subversive it would have been if all the boxed had their lids on – dozens of identical plain boxes with descriptions of what you could see if they were open.

The next main gallery was Material Gestures – abstract works mostly. Personally I remain unmoved by most abstract expressionist works. I like the Giacometti sculptures, and the long thin Pollack splashy painting, but a lot of the rest just doesn’t do it for me, especially Mark Rothko. Perhaps I have not given them enough time and need to quietly contemplate on them – but quiet contemplation is not easy to do with the school parties milling around.

That is not to say the pieces are not valid. I am sure some people had the same opinion of The Weather Project, which I found stunning. Its a personal response thing, and even the most willfully abstract blank canvass there must have its fans. As I have said before, some of Turner’s later works would not look out of place alongside the abstract works.

Upstairs to the next gallery, Idea and Object, which is devoted to minimalism. A lot of this leaves me as unmoved as the abstracts, but some parts I found to be quite stimulating. There are several Mondrians and a nice Kandinsky, as well as the famous pile of bricks.

One work I really wanted to see was the stripey room (Six Geometric Figures by Sol leWitt). One small room has the walls painted in a way which looks like chalk stripes, with geometric shapes also in pinstripes. Just walking in the room is very disorienting. Love it or hate it, you can’t be unaffected by it.

The Ready-made Revisited room is the real ‘I could do that’ room. Its the one with Fountain in it (the upturned urinal), and it also features a sculpture made to look exactly like an air-conditioning unit. Exactly. If it didn’t have a rope round it you would assume it was an air-conditioning unit. There is another work which is a slide projector near a wall which projects a picture of a light switch onto the wall so it is the size of a light switch. Neat concept, but it only takes a nanosecond to appreciate the concept.

Am I a bit conservative in my appreciation of art because I am suspicious of all this ‘found object’ art? I just like to see things which I couldn’t do myself, but even so most rooms had something I was interested by.

The last main gallery is States of Flux, which lumps together pop art, cubism, futurism, vorticism and several other -isms and it starts with a bang – the Roy Lichtenstein fighter plane cartoon. I can remember seeing it when the modern art was still downstairs at the old Tate. It was, after all, one of their most famous exhibits, so its hard to believe that this was not displayed at the new Tate Modern until this year.

It must be my age, but as soon as I saw the Boccioni sculpture I could not get the old Adam & The Ants song out of my head… (Futurist Manifesto off the Dirk Wears White Sox album).

Overall I liked this section the most. There are a couple of good Picassos and a Chagall, and some very striking paintings which, although abstract or non-representational, did move me. There is a whole room of Richard Hamilton, who I had not heard of before, but I absolutely loved his Trainsition IIII painting despite the pretentious title (“train-sit-I-on”). But for a pretentious title his painting Hommage à Chrysler Corp takes the prize!

I particularly liked the room which was completely filled with posters and magazine pages from USSR In Construction. There is still something powerful and appealing about the Stalinist propaganda, and this room is really one not to miss.

There are a few bits which Tim Marlow did not feature.

First of all there is The Wrong Gallery. The best way to describe it is to just quote from the Tate website:

In 2002 the artist Maurizio Cattelan teamed up with curators Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick to create The Wrong Gallery, a tiny non-profit exhibition space sandwiched between two doors on 20th St, Chelsea, New York. Evicted from its previous site, The Wrong Gallery has now been relocated within the Collection Displays at Tate Modern. Like a Trojan Horse smuggling its own agenda into the larger institution, The Wrong Gallery provides an opportunity to show artists and works that may not otherwise be displayed at Tate Modern.

The Wrong Gallery will show a new exhibition every two months.

At the moment it is showing that ‘Popeye’ portrait of the Queen.

Another exhibition, and a larger one, is of photographs from the UBS collection. I found a few to be pointless, and not as interesting as 80% of what you can find on Flickr, but there were some spectacular photographs, made more spectacular by being printed at such a large size, including a couple of really cool tilt-shift lens photos.

The last display is called Living History, and shows artists’ reactions to conflict and current events. Two works here really caught my eye. One is a collage where the artist has cut up a road map and stuck it back together so that towns and villages are all in the wrong place – but all the roads still join up properly! I think I could have spent all day looking at it.

The other work was a load of national flags made of sand in perspex boxes, which are all connected by tubes. After completing the flags the artists released ants into it. As the ants moved around they dragged sand from one place to another, representing migration patterns and the impact of migration on nationality.

The strangest thing in the whole place, for me, was back in the Poetry & Dream section. It was a room full of Thomas Shütte’s United Enemies series. These are models made of two figures, bound together, and placed in bell jars. The figures’ heads are made of some sort of modelling clay. There are three sets of these figures on pedastals, surrounded by photos of another six sets, and this is the strange thing…

The models themselves were quite underwhelming, but the photos were absolutely brilliant. The figures are about a foot tall, but the photos are very close-range macro shots, blown up to an enormous size, showing the detail of the figures better than the naked eye can see on the real objects. I don’t know what it all means, but I know that I like it.

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