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

Monday, 22 September 2014

21a. North Dakota's Lone Sky Scraper

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 21a. North Dakota's Lone Sky Scraper, 1972, screenprint and lithograph on paper, Tate.

I've looked at Paolozzi before, but it's always worth delving into the Tate's holdings of his works as they have a lot of it, and much of it is very interesting.
   This is from his Bunk! series, collages of popular culture he made in the late '40s, intended as research rather than art, then recycled as screenprints in 1972, by which time he had decided they were art after all, what with them being pretty much the beginning of the Pop Art movement if he chose to think of them that way.
   As a whole, the series is a witty distillation of the American post-war race to the future, with ray guns, TV dinners and streamlined white goods rubbing up against each other.  Here, the past of the pioneers and the high-rise future uneasily vie for space, the sky scraper looming, ready to swallow up the lives of the earnest teenagers in the foreground.  The romantic figures of the pioneers look on helplessly from stone captivity, knowing they've already lost them.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

21. The Same as the Last, But Darker at the Bottom Than the Top - Alexander Cozens

Alexander Cozens, 21. The Same as the Last, but Darker at the Bottom than the Top, date not known, etching on paper, 111 x 160 mm, Tate.

Alexander Cozens was an eighteenth century painter who also specialized in somewhat eccentric instructional drawings for artists.  His series on constructing landscapes out of blots, the beauty of the human head, and the one from which this comes, in which slightly different cloud forms are depicted, are all part of the Tate collection and are well worth perusing.  Divorced from their intended educational use, they are endearingly odd, resembling some intentionally absurd conceptual art project.  The fact that it all made sense to Cozens, although his work's usefulness was questioned even at the time, adds to the appeal.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

1. Caricature. A Woman Seated on a Two-Legged Ass-Headed Monster Straddling a Man in Military Uniform - George Dance

George Dance, 1. Caricature. A Woman Seated on a Two-Legged Ass-Headed Monster Straddling a Man in Military Uniform, 1809, ink, watercolour and graphite on paper, 200 x 193 mm, Tate.

George Dance is primarily known as an architect, and secondarily as a portraitist, and hardly at all as the creator of weird-ass drawings.  Nevertheless, this work of insanity is part of a larger portfolio, mostly of more easily-digestible caricatures of his contemporaries.
   Exactly what possessed him to do this, I don't know.  I'm guessing it's some sort of social satire, possibly relating to a play on words, hence the 'He wadled over a Duk' handwritten at the bottom.  But I actually don't want to know.  I'd rather treasure the mystery of this slightly deranged-looking woman, sitting on half a moth-eaten dragon, while a man shelters under his hat, as if waiting for the shit to hit it.

Monday, 23 June 2014

...and Chewing Gum - Pierre Ayot

Pierre Ayot, ...and Chewing Gum, 1971, lithograph on paper, 705 x 483 mm, Tate.

Intriguing slab of Canadian pop art lithography.  The image of the chewing gum dispenser in the top half of the image gives figurative meaning to the bottom, which otherwise would be a Larry Poons-style abstraction.  The chewing gum balls tumble out merrily, and there's a tension between reading them as that and simply as circles of colour.  Maybe not achieving Warhol-levels of ambiguity and cultural resonance, but a great piece of graphic-work, crying out to be turned into a book cover.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Akua-Ba - John Skeaping

John Skeaping, Akua-Ba, 1931, acacia wood, 1117 x 560 x 500 mm, Tate.

At first, this self-consciously primitive work by British modernist sculptor John Skeaping seems the total opposite of last week's Maillol.  There are no direct allusions to a classical past here.  It's not even in bronze.  He's just gone and carved it out of some wood, like a poor person.  But it's not totally dissimilar. Both are still, calm works, with a fine sense of balance.  There's a thick monumentality to both forms, that in the Maillol, feels like a nod to primitivism, and in the Skeaping, like a tip of the hat to classicism.  While the blank eyes of the Maillol gaze into nothingness, however, those of the Skeaping look directly out into our world.  Maillol's Venus is a goddess concerned with her own god-business.  Skeaping's sitting woman wants to connect.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Venus With a Necklace - Aristide Maillol

Aristide Maillol, Venus With a Necklace, c. 1918-28, bronze, 1753 x 610 x 400 mm, Tate.

Maillol's particular brand of classicism, with its ever-so-slight modernist sheen, reducing to essential forms that bit more than old school classicism was already doing, was hugely influential.  Most Western European cities have a public statue somewhere that looks something like a Maillol.  He gave a tiny flavour of the new for those who would otherwise be threatened by it, on a great big dollop of the old.  But what to make of him now?  Now that the modern has been pretty much absorbed, do we really need him for anything?  I suppose we could enjoy him purely for his calmness.  He's pretty much the anti-Rodin.  But then we've got Brancusi.  Think the boat may have sailed on this one.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Picture Book - A.R. Middleton Todd

A.R. Middleton Todd, The Picture Book, 1939, oil on wood, 356 x 454 mm, Tate.

By the 1930s, even in Britain, you could include a slight Impressionist patina to your work without people assuming you wanted to fire-bomb Parliament.  This is a nice slice of England, well away from the Modernist fire-bombs, also perhaps showing the influence of the Euston Road School.  The appliance of paint on the blouse enjoyably mirrors the petals on the flowers, while the fact that the subject looks away from the picture book, lost in thought either about what she's just seen or something else entirely, adds some rudimentary psychological depth.  The best thing here, is the potato-like sofa.  I can feel the lumps.

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.