Yesterday I took Connor, who is staying with us from South Africa, to Tate Modern. He is about to start his 4th year studying Fine Art at Wits University, Johannesburg. A student led effort to ‘decolonialise’ the University and it’s culture has been laudable, but this idea seems to have also resulted in the near wholesale junking of the history of european art, seen as colonial, patriarcal, and white. An african historical context is essential for the new South African artists, but surely a global historical understanding is equally important. That’s all fixable, I thought, with an afternoon at the Tate!
We started on the second floor of the Boiler House with the free display ‘In the Studio’ which explores ‘the relationship between the individual and the artwork, whether making or looking at art.’ It also happens to feature some of my favourite pieces in the current hang, by Mark Rothko and Bridget Riley.
Next was the Modigliani retrospective, which we both came out of a little underwhelmed. One wonders if he has lived to a ripe old age, rather than dying at 35, if his art would have evolved and grown, or if he would have continued refining the portrature he specialised in? Though the art is intense, spare and elegant, there is little that jolts you out of your preconceptions of his work. All the work though, is very distinct and would never be mistaken for someone else.
I had not heard of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov before but this exhibition Not Everyone Will Be Taken into the Future and their work is a wonderful surprise. The show is an installation rich journey into the realities of the USSR, censorship and the life of an artist working in fear. The work highlights the grim history of life in Communist Russia, and acts as a reminder of the dangers of any kind of totalitarianism. That they manage to do so with flashes of the darkest black comedy running through it makes it all the more human and immediate.
We finished with a look at the work of Bruce Nauman in the Artists Rooms, which seemed like an adventure in questioning what art is, what it’s made from and what can we make it into? Connor liked it, especially the spinning heads video! We went and looked into rich people’s apartments and the London skyline from the 10th floor viewing level, it seemed like the right thing to do. So a fun afternoon with added Picassos, Matisses and Dalis amongst others, and a plan to go back to further expand his horizons; I think that can be classed as a success.
Text and images © Jonathan Dredge