Tate needed to make a Bigger Splash

18 Nov

I don’t enjoy being offensive about exhibitions as I know how much hard work goes into their planning.  It gives me no pleasure to leave a great gallery and be so disappointed and bored by a show that I don’t really have anything to say.  But, Tate’s latest exhibition is so bland and irrelevant that I feel it is one of the worst shows I have seen in years.

A Bigger Splash claims to look at the ‘dynamic relationship between performance and painting from 1950 to the present day’, bringing together artists such as Yves Klein, Cindy Sherman, Nike de Saint Phalle, Wang Peng and Sam Gilliam.  It apparently ‘shows how the key period of post-war performance art has challenged and energised the medium of painting for successive generations’.  I felt the need to include this quote as, without it, I don’t think you’d have a clue as to their intentions.

Sam Gilliam, Simmering, 1970. Own photograph.

The exhibition, of course, opens with David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash – Tate obviously felt they had to include the work around which the exhibition marketing revolves.  After all, this is the title that’s going to pull in the punters.  Make sure to read the subtitle of Painting after Performance as this is not a Hockney show and the painting doesn’t really fit here at all.  Is Hockney’s painting a meditation on performance?  I think not.  Hockney’s work is certainly not the best link to performance art.

Alongside, A Bigger Splash is Pollock’s Summertime and then both artists are shown ‘performing’ in the accompanying films.  Although slightly random, this room seems quite good – it poses questions and it juxtaposes exciting major works.  But, don’t hold your breath, as this excitement swiftly fades away.  In fact, the more we think about this room and the lack of continuity between the works, the more we realise the exhibition is fundamentally flawed.

David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, 1967. Own photograph.

Both Hockney and Pollock look at the action of painting. If we want to call these artists ‘performers’ then surely any artist, in fact any creator, is a performer and then what the hell is the point of the exhibition.  Neither artist was, in my opinion ‘energised’ by performance art.

Pollock’s Summertime seen horizontal as it was painted.  Image via www.independent.co.uk

Most of the works in the exhibition are accompanied by film footage – dreary archive material that cannot make up for the lack of actual performance.  The exhibition is a mess, bringing together every sort of art, performance and media that the curators could possibly cram into one space.  Plus it’s hung on Tate grey – my favourite wall colour!

I’m not going to discuss the individual works as to see them in this context does them a disservice.  There are some powerful works if you have the energy to seek them out but, more often than not, they are lost in the ruckus.

Painting after Performance at Tate. Own photograph.

The exhibition takes a dramatic turn half-way through, concentrating on one artist per room, looking at large-scale installations.  Here, I felt the connection to painting pretty much faded away completely.  The exhibition did improve but not sufficiently to pull me out of the depression that the first six galleries had induced.  It was still pretty lacklustre.

Joan Jonas, The Juniper Tree. Own photograph.

My favourite part of the show was the last room.  Not only because it was the exit but because Lucy McKenzie’s work is thought-provoking and beautiful.  Her paintings make use of trompe l’oeil techniques that mimic architectural surfaces and the gallery becomes an imaginary room with fake walls, the interior of a stylish house.

Lucy McKenzie at Tate. Own photograph.

Even though I hoard books, I didn’t want this catalogue which, from the reviews I’ve read, seems to be an abomination, even worse than the exhibition itself.  A perverse part of me wants to get one just to see how Tate has gone so wrong with this too but, to be honest, I just can’t be bothered.

There are no performers in an exhibition surveying performance art.  It becomes very difficult to engage, difficult to feel invigorated and difficult to spend very much time at all in there.  Tired archive footage heard through headphones cannot capture the spirit of performance.  So, was painting affected by performance art?  I don’t think we leave the exhibition any the wiser.  Tate may ask the question but they certainly don’t attempt to give us an answer.

A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance is at Tate Modern until 1st April 2013, www.tate.org.uk.

8 Responses to “Tate needed to make a Bigger Splash”

  1. judygreen@btinternet.com November 18, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    Chloe, I have been meaning to tell you for ages how much I love your posts – they amuse, inform & educate me in equal amounts.  And like most of your followers, I always look forward to pics of your footwear – this week you’ve surpassed yourself – they are fabulous, I want them, I really do! Hope all is well with you.  We’re off to Manchester this week as Philip’s statue of Sir Alex Ferguson is being unveiled on Friday, but maybe we can meet up for a coffee the following week if you’re around. All best, Judy    Judy Green Adviser to Philip Jackson 120 The Perspective 100 Westminster Bridge Road London SE1 7XB Tel: +44 (0)7904 115208

    >________________________________ > From: chloenelkin >To: judygreen@btinternet.com >Sent: Sunday, 18 November 2012, 17:26 >Subject: [New post] Tate needed to make a Bigger Splash > > > WordPress.com >chloenelkin posted: “I don’t enjoy being offensive about exhibitions as I know how much hard work goes into their planning.  It gives me no pleasure to leave a great gallery and be so disappointed and bored by a show that I don’t really have anything to say.  But, Tateâ” >

    • chloenelkin November 19, 2012 at 9:26 am #

      Ah thank you so much, that’s lovely to know how much you’re enjoying the posts and means a lot. And, I’m glad you like my shoes.

      I hope the unveiling goes well this week. I’ll drop you a line re coffee the week after – that would be great.

  2. Steve Wilde (@stevewilde) November 19, 2012 at 12:26 am #

    Thanks for this Chloe… The posters on the tube seem to suggest that this is just a collection of works that someone has tried to justify being gathered in the same space… And even that isn’t convincing… I’ll make do with your orange shoes I think!

    • chloenelkin November 19, 2012 at 9:24 am #

      Yes I think that’s spot on – they are trying to justify why all the works are all thrown into the Tate galleries with little success. Glad you like the shoes anyway 🙂

      Thanks, as ever, for reading.

  3. Kirsty@Edinburgh March 23, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    I enjoyed your review. However, I think it is unfair to not mention any of the work in depth and to dismiss the first part of the show in such a passive manner.

    ‘Most of the works in the exhibition are accompanied by film footage – dreary archive material that cannot make up for the lack of actual performance’

    Which ‘dreary archive material’ are you referring to specifically in the exhibition?
    How can any live performance of a Niki de Saint Phalle or Yves Klein or Pollock be shown without ‘archive material’. In reference to Hockney and Pollock neither of these film footages are ‘dreary archive material’ – ‘A Bigger Splash’ by Jack Haza is an intensely provocative and avant-garde piece of ‘scripted reality’ filmmaking. Hockney’s paintings are used as backdrops to his life and his relationships, some testing, both within London and California. Even in the photo that you post on your blog you can see the exact pool ‘The Bigger Splash’ painting is set from. The film instigated a new type of performance documentation that the artist self-constructed and referenced his own paintings, while also addressing issues within a larger homosexual and political context. This is also true with the Hans Namuth film on Pollock from 1950 – It is an important piece of material in art history and cannot be dismissed as ‘dreary archive’ material. The video is almost as famous as the work itself – especially due to the fack Pollock despised the video. Can you not see the importance of this documentation at the time – people could see the gestural and physical way in which he was painting. It was engrossing and enlightening.

    I found the room on Viennese Actionism very insightful and curated concisely. So to with the mention of the Gutai Association and the general inclusion of international spectrum of performance – very interesting. I agree that performance is hard to grasp when there is no live performance but how do you suggest this issue be rendered in a show like this? I have many issues with this exhibition, and be no means wish to particularly defend it, but your style needs less cynicism and more reasoning. I agree there are many questions left unanswered and a lot of random curation, but please don’t dismiss something so quickly without actually talking about any of the work involved or suggesting anything to improve it.

    • chloenelkin March 25, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

      Thank you for this. You will have noticed from my other posts that I very rarely discuss works in depth as this is not the style of the posts that can be found here.

      You clearly found the exhibition far more successful than I did. Perhaps my basic point is that there is a problem with its initial premise that is insurmountable.

      Many thanks again for reading and for your comment.


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