Looking down the at the Turbine Hall of the TATE MODERN museum (originally a power station) with a distant view of the current installation: by Cecilia Vicuna - Brain Forest Quipu
So, as an introduction to this journal entry I could start off trying to sound highly educated and use this moment to recall my vast knowledge and understanding of modern art...but instead, I shall speak about some of the art that I have now had the privilege of seeing/experiencing up close and write about it from my very limited perspective.
Please refer to the photographs of artwork referenced in the gallery at the bottom of this page for all of the artworks mentioned in the following paragraphs.
It's always exciting to try something new, to experience something for the first time, especially when it's one of the most iconic and notable art museums in the world. I visited the TATE MODERN with an open mind, as opposed to researching the artworks beforehand, this is because I like to experience what I am feeling in addition to what I am seeing. When I look at art, I expect to emotionally feel the message that is being conveyed by the artist whether that is joy, fear or peril etc and it really lifts my mood when art is created in such a brilliantly technical way, especially when I know that never in my lifetime could I acquire such skill, I am then experiencing a deep senes of awe and wonder. I didn't really feel this way at all after visiting this museum and, for some reason, I feel bad about saying that. I came away with a heavy heart, feeling lost and a little inadequate. I say this with brutal honesty as a reflection of myself and how I have received all this information, as opposed to it sounding disrespectful against some of the world's most successful and valuable artists.
My understanding of modern art is that it is all about discovery and in finding new ways of looking at things and conveying that new message from a different perspective which will then pave the way for new artists and ideas into our future. As I said earlier, I will not try to sound intellectually fantastic, this is purely viewed from my understanding so far and I do understand that in order for art to remain relevant and interesting, somebody needs to be the first to break away from the traditional, the safe and the comfortable.
So, the first thing that I did learn was that it IS better to read about the work of these artists BEFORE viewing them because, without doing so, much of it does not make sense quite frankly. Take, for instance, the very famous mass produced urinal by Marcel Duchamp named Fountain? Although this is one of the replicas of his original version in 1917 (because the original is now lost), it is regarded as one of the most influential artworks of the twentieth century. Marcel wanted to challenge the idea that anything that an artist decides is 'art' is art, regardless of whether or not the artist actually had any involvement in producing it. This very idea was originally scorned as most new ideas and ways of thinking are, they create feelings of unease and uncertainty, that is, until years later, in this case around 30 years later, a new way of thinking sees Marcel as a genius and his Fountains are now valued at millions of pounds. So, the message here was that everyday objects could be viewed as works of art if they are considered to be so by the artist. Its hard for me not to be cynical here as I question the 'perceived value' of artwork created by some of the greatest art masters such as Rubens or Caravaggio against something that is mass produced for everyday use such as a urinal? My husband worked in the bathroom industry for several years and helped source many of the products, mostly from China, but I never saw these sanitary items as works of art in their own entirety, see, told you I was ignorant!
Other 'modern artists' (of their time), also questioned the traditional ways in which we viewed the creation of art. Piet Mondrain created a series of graphic compositions that symbolised the relationship between the individual and the collective and for reasons of accuracy, I will quote the exact description of his work as written by the museum:
"Mondrian used a simple visual language in his work. This composition is a clear example of his technique. It consists of horizontal planes and vertical lines in black, with planes of white. It also features the three primary colours, from which all other colours are made by mixing. Through the structure and order of the elements, Mondrian was suggesting an idealised view of society. Each individual element contributes to the overall contribution of the work. This was intended to symbolise the relationship between the individual and the collective." TATE MODERN
This is another example of art that would mean very little without a description of the thought process behind the artist's work, in that, the painting visually does not speak for itself and I can't confess to being any the wiser for reading that. The same can be said of the composition by Judith Rothschild, who was apparently influenced by Mondrain, as she explored the boundary between still life and abstraction using thick black bold lines and blocks of colour to create her strong graphic paintings. Rothschild's painting shown below was named Untitled Composition, indicating that the initial subject was so abstract that it was no longer an identifiable 'thing', or it was never an identifiable subject matter to begin with? I think? Artists are such deep thinkers!
Of all of the images that I viewed, the one that underwhelmed me the most was the huge collage by the very famous Henri Matisse, named The Snail. Here, Henri wanted to show a vibrant collection of complementary colours and how they interact with each other to a pleasing effect in a concentric format. I can see that the colours in his collage are uplifting but I do not connect with the 'perceived brilliance' of this work overall, however, that is my initial thought when I consider this to be a stand alone piece of artwork without looking into the circumstances behind its creation. After a long and highly successful career, this was one of Matisses final art pieces and it was created during a time when he was bedridden with the help of his assistant. Initially a painter, Matisse produced this 'painting' using scissors to cut out his shapes and have them put into the desired position on the canvas. I've since listened to a brief explanation of this particular work of art explaining that the golden rules of composition may have been considered, I have also learned that Matisse wanted his art to allow the viewer to create their own 'story' after looking at his work, however, I can't help but wonder if this particular art was created by an unknown artist, would it be hanging in the TATE MODERN today? If you can enlighten me further, I'd be very grateful for further information on why this artwork is considered to be one of the most significant artworks of modern times.
Another lesson learnt here, art can be considered to be extremely valuable in terms of significance and in monetary terms , just because of the story behind it, for example, art created by Max Beckmann (Carnival) was considered to be 'degenerative' by the Nazis and the government removed him from his teaching post in Frankfurt. This led Beckmann to exhibit a collection of his artwork to the now famous 'Degenerative Art Show' of 1933, adding a premium to the value of his works today. That's not to say, of course, that this painting would be worthless without the story, far from it, it's just emphasising the importance of a significant art or artist's back-story, particular one of notable historical importance.
At the TATE MODERN, there is art that must be understood before viewing it and there is also art that very much speaks for itself such as the graphic work of The Guerrilla Girls who portray strong messages in graphic formats. These anonymous feminist artists highlight todays problems such as sexism and racism using blunt and sometimes shocking forms of communication. Their mission is to encourage museums to tell the real story of art history, not just the white male artist part. I couldn't agree more!
The artwork that I was most excited to see was that of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol and this is just because I studied these artists on a graphic design in the early 2000s. Interestingly I had not previously heard of Barbara Kruger and her 'Who owns what?' series of graphic art which uses the methods of mass media and advertising to question consumerism. Barbara uses her past experiences working as a graphic designer for a well known lifestyle publication to question consumer culture. By drawing the consumer's attention to the negative power of consumer advertising, Barbara's motivation for creating this series was the precise the opposite of her initial role as a graphic designer which was to use these skills to try and sell us something.
To sum up my visit to the TATE MODERN I was disappointed I did not feel 'uplifted' although there were some lovely surprises to see some of the most famous names in the world of art in there and these were a privilege to see in the flesh they are so familiar to us all. I wonder if I failed to feel because we have become desensitised to many of the art that we see nowadays and it is getting harder for artists to surprise or shock us. I would have liked to have seen Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' or experience the 'Infinity Mirror Rooms' by Yayoi Kasama but we did not plan our visit and tickets for the latter were sold out on that day. In terms of generating an emotional response, I guess that Emin's bedroom scene of chaos and self-destruction during her most painful years would have troubled me for some time, so maybe its not such a bad thing that we missed that. Although I do admire her brutal honesty to reveal everything about herself in such a painful and raw way. Kasama is considered to be one of the most successful artists of our time and has based her art on her childhood experiences of seeing everything in dot form, I would imagine her light installation to be an uplifting and magical moment so if you have had the chance to see this, it would be great to her your thoughts.
There were several installations on display including the one shown above by Cecilia Vicuna (above) which highlighted the plights of our ailing planet and the communities within it by combining natural materials with traditional crafts, to create huge sculptures such as this one, which also included accompanying audio transcripts and music. I should have read about this piece before entering the museum as I couldn't relate to it in the first instance, but now that I have read about it and understand her message, it is a genius idea and, once understood, has such a lot of powerful meaning behind the art. It still left me feeling sad though but I guess that's the whole idea, bringing awareness to tragic situations will never make you feel good!
Cildo Meireles - Babel Tower 2001
Babel Tower (above) is a huge installation consisting of around 800 radios all playing different stations in varying degrees of volume, the overall effect is mind-blowing and amazing at the same time. The thinking behind this creation goes back to biblical routes whereby God originally is said to have found reason for humankind to speak different languages, there is far more thought than that behind this story but for the purpose of this journal entry, I will keep it brief. On a personal level, I have recently discovered so much about the difficulty of living with the neurological disorder ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) which was described by a child as having a room full of television stations on all at the same time, therefore, making it impossibly difficult to concentrate on one particular station. My poor brain could only tolerate being in this room for less than a minute before I started to feel physically sick with all of the noises trying to get through at the same time. Again, I'm not sure if this is a common reaction to this installation of if it was just me but nevertheless, I did appreciate that it was a magnificent work of art and imagination.
Sol LeWitt's 'Upside Down" structure of Three Towers, Expanded 23 Times, Split in Three (below) - all made from over 500 Venetian blinds was brilliant, who'd have thought that such an unassuming everyday object could be make to look like solid structural towers. my photograph below does not do this art installation justice at all but they are all quick snaps taken as I wondered around the museum at a fairly quick pace due to having my husband and teenage sons with me under duress.!
This visit has shown me art from a very different perspective and considering that the last museum that I visited was the Louvre in Paris, the works shown here are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Traditionally art was created for the purpose of storytelling by early humans in caves which then expanded to religious leaders commissioning great works of art for their respective institutions as a way of preaching. Fast-forward to all of the art below that questions everything that we have know to understand from the past and I wonder what will come next? I also question myself to a much deeper extent than I did before, what is the real purpose behind me and behind my art? What messages am I trying to convey? What is the meaning of it all? And what direction am I taking next? So, in effect, I got out of this visit so much more than I had anticipated yet I didn't realise the impact that it would have on my thought processes at the time. In essence, I found it to be enlightening and discouraging in equal measure. Enlightening because of it has opened my mind to new ways of thinking, yet discouraging because not all art is considered to be great based on its technical skills and application which is what I have spent the last decade working on.
For more information on any of the artworks discussed in this post, please refer to the TATE MODERN website of look up the artists listed below the following images to read about their lives and their art conversely. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, even if it is to educate and enlighten me.
Best wishes, Janine x
Rows from Top Left to Right
1 The Guerrilla Girls - Mixed Display, Roy Lichtenstein - Whaam! 1963
2 Jimmie Durham - Alpine Ibex (2017); Piet Mandarin - Composition C (No iii) with Red, Yellow and Blue 1935; Max Beckmann - Carnival 1920; Judith Rothschild - Untitled Composition 1945
3 Marcel Duchamp - Fountain (1917); Juan Gris - Bottle of Rum and Newspaper 1913; Juan Gris - Pierrot with Book 1924
4 Haegue Yang - Sol LeWitt Upside Down 2015 reinterpritation from Sol LeWitt's original sculpture first created in 1986; Evelyne Axell - Valentine 1966; Henri Matisse - The Snail 1953
5 Bob and Roberta Smith - Themesmeade Codex 2019-20; Barbara Kruger - Who Owns What? 1970s; Burton Dogancay - Hum 1973
6 Close up of Burton Dogancay - Hum 1973; Andy Warhol - Christ $9.98 (negative and positive) 1985-6