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.