A Bigger Splash Opening At Tate Modern

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!

About mistertrippy

Stewart Home was born in south London in 1962. His mother Julia Callan-Thompson was a showgirl and club hostess. He has never held down a regular job for more than a few months at a time. On those rare occasions when he's been forced to work, Home has taken employment as a factory labourer, agricultural labourer, shop assistant, office clerk and art class model. Deciding he didn't like working in factories as a teenager, Home pursued cultural and political interests, writing many books and participating in even more gallery exhibitions.
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22 thoughts on “A Bigger Splash Opening At Tate Modern

  1. Michael Roth says:

    After reading your review and looking at the Tate site, I agree this exhibit is more like a survey (in scope) with a general audience in mind. That said, it seems to be a decent intro for art newbies. Of interest to me would be the Viennese Actionists. I’m not that familiar with Hélio Oiticica and Niki de st Phalle, but their pieces would be interesting to see in person. The same goes for Pollock, who I don’t mind, especially seeing the paintings up close. I can’t stand Hockney, although I’ve been reading an online (fictional?) bio which is brilliant. I can do without IRWIN or NSK which I find boring.

    Sounds like a good night out, especially after the show!

  2. Lucy Johnson says:

    I do not know all of these names either, therefore I will be looking them up!

  3. mistertrippy says:

    You’ll find some of this material covered in my 1988 book Assault on Culture… and other stuff elsewhere in my writing. The paint filled balloons to be shot at to obliterate the wall mural in the 1987 group installation I was part of (Desire In Ruins at Transmission Gallery in Glasgow) was inspired by Niki de Saint Phalle. And glad Michael agrees with me IRWIN and NSK are complete pants.

  4. Lucy Johnson says:

    Very interesting!

  5. Steve says:

    On a completely-unrelated note, is/was The Situationist Times worth a look? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a copy and I must say I’m kind of curious:


  6. mistertrippy says:

    Yes it’s a really beautiful publication and is visually beautiful. For background see Karen Kurczynski’s text discussing the six issues of “The Situationist Times” in the Fear Nothing Expect Anything anthology. You can buy the paperback or get the PDF for free online: http://www.nebulabooks.dk/ExpectAnything.pdf

  7. Steve says:

    That link looks great – thank you!!

  8. Yukiko Kanazawa says:

    Did you wear a dress for the opening? I hope so!

  9. Dirty Pam says:

    Surely the title of the show and painting is an allusion to coprophilia. You get a bigger splash from poo than piss!

  10. FIona Smith says:

    Simon Bedwell is hot!

  11. Jennifer Jones says:

    But John Russell is hotter and word hasn’t it that rather than going to this Tate opening he was at a Raven Row talk! Although I guess two out of three prominent ex-Bank members being present at a Tate opening ain’t bad…..

  12. Woodrow Taylor says:

    But isn’t it really the collectors who actually determine what is art?

  13. mistertrippy says:

    You’re right in so far as the Tate shows and collects very little by artists who aren’t represented by commercial galleries. However in the case of A Bigger Splash audience footprint would also seem to be a factor – so I guess the curation is more like a dialectical interplay between the two.

  14. Boudica of the Iceni says:

    Looking at Yves Klein’s work leaves me feeling blue… I think he was suffering from woad envy!

  15. Maureen Ramsey says:

    But if you’d been at Tate Britain you could have attended the talk Elizabeth Price gave that night! So what was Simon Bedwell doing at Tate Modern?

  16. The Man in the Iron Mask says:

    Re ‘feeling blue’: it would be more indigo than woad envy in Klein’s case especially as the colour blue in our sense is a rather late arrival – the Middle Ages.

  17. Mike Rimmer says:

    There’s a good reason why that little curator y has a huge smile on his face. Because artist x has got her tongue all up in some curator butt….. Now if you’re sad and you’re feeling blue several inches of tongue up your butt will soon sort that out! And kiss kiss kiss (that curator/critic/art bureaucrat/collector butt) is the only way for an artist to get ahead and get a career!

  18. Lucy Johnson says:

    Such is life!

  19. Guy The Bore says:

    Art life is more like half-life….

  20. Archie Cane says:

    Sugar sugar!

  21. The Man in the Iron Mask says:

    Sugar: no need to be cryptic – it was money from slavery which paid for the founding of the Tate. Every document of culture is a document of barbarism, as Walter Benjamin said and I keep repeating.

  22. Lucy Johnson says:

    Too bad….