Staring at art from the Tate's collection and thinking about it

Thursday, 28 November 2013

z.B. Skulptur - Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys, z.B. Skulptur, 1978, print on paper, 833 x 592 mm, Tate/National Galleries of Scotland.

Not so much a work of art, more a piece of paper telling you where some are.  It's an exhibition poster.  It is a good one.  It tells you where and when the exhibition is, and what's in it.  You can't really ask for much more.  (Actually, entry price would be nice.  And directions from Dudley, on foot.)
   What's of interest here is why the Tate has got it in the first place.  It has quite a few Beuys exhibition posters.  Of all the many gaps in their collection, the one marked 'Joseph Beuys exhibition posters' was one they chose to fill back in 2008.  This was because they were making a collection of Beuys-related material to be sent round the country as part of their Artist Rooms project.  It is currently in Worcester.
   At the moment, the acquisition makes sense.  But one day, in the far future, the Artist Room project will be no more, and some future mutant-person rummaging in the vaults will ask, why on earth do we have so many Beuys exhibition posters?  Another mutant-person will shrug, and wonder why the money wasn't spent on a work by the Greatest of All Artists, Ron Wood.  Then they'll put on their jet-packs, fly off into the Sun where they live, and forget all about it.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Self-Portrait as Jealous Tiger - Dieter Roth

Dieter Roth, Self-Portrait as Jealous Tiger, 1973, screenprint on paper, 578 x 686 mm, Tate.

Dieter Roth was a Swiss artist associated with Fluxus and Arte Povera, whose materials included rotting foodstuffs, coffee stains and rabbit shit.  True to form, the Tate bought some of his screenprints.  I don't know that much about him or his ideas, but I'm guessing that the absurdity of having a self-portrait as a selfish tiger in which no tiger can be seen here is meant to playfully challenge the serious work-based ideology of capitalism, ultimately leading to a revolution and the spontaneous rebirth of society as a joyful utopia of perpetual amusement.  That's generally how this sort of thing turns out.  Anyway, I couldn't find a way into this piece, or feel that compelled to, but on the plus side I have quit my job and covered my local branch of TSB in silly putty.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Sunflower Seeds - Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds, 2010, porcelain, overall display dimensions variable, Tate.

This is the work that Ai Weiwei produced specially for display in the Tate Turbine Hall.  Many, many sunflower seeds, hand-crafted out of porcelain, none of them the same.  The idea was that you could walk about in them and pick them up, but unfortunately it was discovered that coming in to contact with them would turn some visitors into giant balloons and zoom around the Turbine Hall like Augustus Gloop.  It was a health and safety nightmare.  The display went ahead, with the field of seeds cordoned off.  Everyone put a brave face on it, but it was a massive let-down which raised the question, if an interactive work of art can't be interacted with, exactly how much art is left?
   This seed-dune arrangement is arguably more satisfying than the field, as you wouldn't really want to dive into it unless you liked the idea of death by porcelain sunflower seed suffocation, and allows for the inspection of a greater number of seeds without having to pick them up.  It is, however, a less comforting vision of the individual amongst the mass.  Here the unique seeds are on top of each other rather than all nicely laid out.  You wouldn't want to be the seed on the bottom of the pile.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

1. 'Ah! This life is so everyday' - Patrick Caulfield

Patrick Caulfield, 1. 'Ah! This life is so everyday', 1973, screenprint on paper, 410 x 359 mm, Tate.

I've generally found Caulfield's works reproduce dreadfully, as the factor of scale is all.  A flat patch of colour covering a sizeable area in front of you is very different from a little block of it on a page.  As with Lichtenstein, by making it small, you're left with something not that different from the low-art source material the artist has fed off.  This, however, is a screenprint and not that big, so not so much is lost.  From a folio of works inspired by the poetry of Jules Laforge, there is a magnificent tension here.  Yes, what we see is so everyday - a curtain, birds, the sky - but in these everyday things is the glory of nature, life, and the infinite sky, stretching out into space in all its flat blue glory.  The 'Ah!' is one of wonder.