As The Tate, and in particular Tate Modern, gets increasingly populist there is a curious disjunction between the art world insiders who attend the private views and the audience at whom these exhibitions are aimed. On my way in to the opening of A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance I ran into Jemima Stehli, Milly Thompson and Coline Milliard, among others.
The first room was reserved for the biggest names – who even most of the tourists who flock to Tate Modern will recognise – Jackson Pollock and David Hockney. It was here I ran into Avi Pichon who told me he’d just returned to London from a trip home to Israel. Until I pointed it out, Avi had managed to miss Jackson Pollock’s Summertime (1948), which was laid out flat on a low plinth beneath a film of Pollock painting in his studio. Later Coline Milliard quoted a piece of the curational promotional blurb about Hockney’s painting A Bigger Splash (from which the show takes its title) that she featured in her Artinfo preview of the exhibition: “the painting becomes an artificial backdrop that opens up a theatrical space, implying the viewer’s entrance into its fictional role.” Milliard then told me (as she had told readers of her blog earlier that day): “Surely this is how all painting has operated since the Renaissance.”
Room 2 was where I ran into Tate film curator Stuart Comer and we exchanged a few words as I took in that this space was yet more familiar ground for me: Niki de Saint Phalle, Yves Klein, Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio, and the Japanese Gutai group. Next came The Viennese Actionists, Hélio Oiticica, Jack Smith, Stuart Brisley etc. – all names that will be instantly recognisable to anyone au fait with the more transgressive end of 1960s and 1970s art and anti-art. This was followed by a less successful room dedicated to the idea of identity transformation and then an equally strange transition to installations with a focus on single contemporary artists or artist groups.
I spent a long time hovering at the transition point between parts one and two of the show – not because I was looking at the work – this was the result of falling into conversation with Nicole Yip, who currently curates at the Firstsite Gallery. While the first part of the show was a bit too obvious from my perspective, most of the work in it is at least worth checking out. I didn’t see anything I liked in the second part of the exhibition, but I found the kitsch tat of the Slovenian IRWIN group particularly redundant and ridiculous. IRWIN’s tosh is an embryonic and poorly thought through form of institutional critique that apes totalitarian forms and often ends up appealing to male adolescents (of all ages) who dream of strong heroes and absolute truth: exactly the opposite response to the one the IRWIN tossers claim to want – or at least you might be led to believe they want if you are gullible enough to accept the claims made about them by some of their fanboy ‘critics’.
Milly Thompson had been keen to get through the exhibition fast so that she could get to the booze. I lost sight of her early on, until emerging from the show I too hit the drinks and found Milly in my line of vision – here I also encountered Ingrid Svenson, Andrew Wilson and Simon Bedwell (like Milly Thompson an ex-member of the artist group BANK).
To sum up, I had a good night out and thought it pleasant enough to look again at work by the likes of Pinot-Gallizio and Oiticica (since what they do has long grooved me), but when I left I couldn’t help thinking that the show was aimed at the tourists who flock to Tate Modern and not at me. I’d prefer to see shows that are more rigorous and coherent, and I don’t see why that should necessarily make them less popular.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!