Ruminations on the 'Tat' Gallery.
For those who don't already know, this new shrine to British modern art is a converted power station on the banks of the Thames River. As a structure, it is straight out of Orwell's 1984. Massive, utterly plain and utilitarian, this massive brown brick basilica most nearly resembles the Mephistolean underworld plant seen in Fritz Lang's 1925 film Metropolis.
And that's just the outside.
Inside architects spent [pound]300 million to divide this concoction of steel girders, klieg lights and concrete into seven glassed-in floors joined together with escalators that might be taking you to artistic heaven...or hell.
Suffice to say Tate Modem, the stepsister of Tate Britain, is not to everyone's taste though few admit it.
As for the art, there's a lot of it, some by famous 20th century names such as Mondrian, Warhol, Pollock, Rothko and Bacon, but much more by unknowns whose creations had been mouldering in Tate warehouses around London--where they belong. And rather than being exhibited chronologically, as has always been the tradition, the works are arranged according to pretentious, vague and ultimately meaningless themes such as History, Memory, Society; Landscape, Matter, Environment; Nude, Action, Body; and Still Life, Object, Real Life.
This means you will find an early 20th-century work such as one of Monet's waterlily murals displayed in the same room as a bizarre piece of late 20th-century sculpture by an artist you have never heard of. It also means that a piece of installation art consisting of a few scattered bricks is given the same importance as a copy of Rodin's famous sculpture The Kiss.
"It looks like the kitchen after the kids have been in," said one critic who was promptly branded a philistine.
"How come when she does it (Tracey Emin's controversial Unmade Bed), it's called art?" asked another. "When I do it, it's called laundry."
Under the direction of Tate curator Nicholas Serota, one of Britain's most important art institutions has turned its back on tradition, order and beauty.
The rule nowadays is that there are no rules. Principles of good drawing and perspective have been tossed out the window. To qualify as art, a work need only reflect the world as the artist finds it, however alarming, flat, joyless, chaotic, sickening, dreary and badly drawn that might be.
So there I was walking from gallery to gallery looking at the 'art'.
In one, a pair of black pantihose stuffed like legs sat on a stool with what looked like male genitalia stuck where her absent shoulders should have been. This 'sculpture' was next to a small Picasso oil which, it must be said, was just as ugly and just as stupid, valuable only for its signature. Nearby, a black telephone stood on a plinth, with a lobster perched on the receiver. The artist? Salvador Dali.
In another gallery, a bizarre sort of threshing machine continued its fruitless work next to a wall sculpture that consisted of open books haphazardly pasted onto a canvas. In the adjacent darkened cinema, a short film of a nude man skipping flickered endlessly.
In yet another gallery, there was a piece of installation art comprised of countless bits of debris hung at various lengths from the ceiling by fishing line. What was it? An explosion, of course.
The meaning of the sculpture in an adjoining gallery completely eluded me, however. Consisting of a desk turned on its side with a ladder, paint tins and assorted bits of rubble strewn around, I couldn't tell whether this was a bit of installation art or the janitorial staff had simply failed to clean up.
But when I got to works by famous artists such as Giacometti and Newman, things got easier. Even I understood why Giacometti's elongated bronze stick men were displayed alongside a Newman graphic. All were tall and thin...get it?
Bottom line: much of the art at Tate Modern is soulless, unsightly, uninspired and uninspiring. While I got the 'point' of virtually all of it, I was unmoved even by the Monet, Bonnard and Rodin which, I felt, were downgraded by their proximity to...what can I say?...crap.
Compare these unhealthy and unlovely works to the great masters and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"So what do you think?" I asked a 60-something art enthusiast munching a sandwich and staring into space.
"Well, it's all quite...interesting," she said, wiping her mouth with a serviette.
"You mean you hate it too?" I asked. "Yes, but you're not going to quote me, are you?" she said finally.
"I noticed they've still got a few Matisses lying around from when the Tate was still an art gallery but, for the most part, what they've got here isn't Tate, it's tat! It doesn't speak to me at all," she added with sudden emotion.
Predictably, most of the critics oohed and aahed just as you might expect, terrified to admit the emperor has no clothes.
None of us should be surprised. Life without God is not pretty.
And art without God is boring. That is, when it's not downright hideous. What's more, it couldn't survive five minutes without an acre of pretence
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|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2000|
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