Tate Modern – A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance

Taking the title from one of David Hockney’s career-defining paintings of a Californian swimming pool, A Bigger Splash – at Tate Modern – displays the work of artists who believe documentation of their creative process is pivotal to the final art work.

In Room 1, Hockney’s blue-skied, whitewashed American Dream swimming pool scene painting is hung – with a film explaining the background to the work. He wanted to portray how quickly a splash happens – and then is over. But decided to paint the splash that he had witnessed as a man dived into the swimming pool really slowly and in great detail. Though it happens in an instance, he has captured the motion forever through painstaking intricacy.

Also in Room 1 – a Jackson Pollack canvas is laid on a low down plinth, to be viewed from above. On the wall next to it, a film of Pollack splashing and flicking paint onto the canvas is playing, with the canvas laid on the floor in front of him in the same position as we are viewing it. The layout feels like a parody of conceptual art: ‘Look how easy it is! You could flick paint on the canvas in front of you just like Jackson did!’

I reassured myself of the value of Pollack’s work by concluding that you can spot a Pollack by his use of colour, as well as technique. And even if a similar canvas could be produced – it was still his idea originally. But then moved through to another room and there was a painting by Pinot Gallizio that looked just like a Pollack.

Pollack and Hockney’s works – both creating a splash – are a great introduction to the exhibition. Hockney’s art work is about the movement that leads up to the final scene. Pollack’s painting is about being the lead up – the art work is the movement.

Yves Klein’s painting in Room 2: Blue Monochrome – a big blue square of colour, is mesmeric because of the shade of blue but does not awaken much emotion:

Klein said the monochrome works were ‘freeing his paintings from representation’ but then promoted his ideas by staging performances of the artist at work – and publishing the images and films.

The film screened alongside his painting is provocative – with nude women coating themselves in blue paint and both creating and becoming the art work as they smear paint on the floor and the walls (‘live brushes’).

There is a shift from the calm of the blue painting – to the manic, haphazard film. It is as if the film represents the inner workings of Klein’s mind and the painting represents the stillness he would like to embody.

Room 3 is devoted to Viennan Actionists – Hermann Nitsch, Otto Muehl, Gunter Brus and Rudolf Schwarzkogler – who used animal carcasses and blood as the materials, and humans as the tools, to create their art. They filmed the ritualistic process but intended the films/ stills for publication rather than live performance.

Using female models as props caused uproar amongst feminists and female Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT responded by using her own body in her art; reclaiming it. Also angry about the inaccurate media portrayal of women, she experimented with identity transfer – producing photographic portraits of herself in stereotypically male clothing; questioning gender identity.

In the same room, Stuart Brisley’s ‘Artist as Whore’, 1972, depicts a room in a brothel with him as the prostitute. Brisley – and the walls – are splattered with blood and the mattress is covered in filth and bodily excretion. The portraits are harrowing.

In a similar stead – Cuban artist Ana Mendieta has photographed herself in a body bag, suffocating. There is blood everywhere. A close-up self-portrait with blood dripping from her nose and bruised eyes (see above) is based on ritualistic practises of ancient indigenous cultures in America, Africa and Europe. It evokes feelings of repulsion and disgust, as well as sadness and fear.

The Transformer room pays homage to artists experimenting with make-up, costume and transsexuality. This room is about becoming the subject of the artwork through transformation.

There are four self-portraits by Cindy Sherman: her posing as young girl, a man, an overly made-up woman and an odd-looking teenager. She has used different make-up techniques to create these different looks – proving how easy it is to transform ourselves into something else entirely.

Joan Jonas’ wonderful The Juniper Tree, in Room 8, takes inspiration from the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale of the same name, telling the story of a loving (dead) mother and evil (living) stepmother.

Jonas used this story to open up the conversation about the anxieties and tragedies that can ensue from bad relations between the ‘evil stepmother’ and her stepchildren, and created a performance piece. Props, masks and paintings on cloth are hung as an installation – both haunting and beautiful:

This exhibition is vast and brimming with exciting works. The theme is inspiring – removing some of the importance that is placed, so often, on the ‘final product’ and suggesting that a lot can also be learned from focusing on the artist’s process.

Afterwards, I went up to the Member’s Bar to check out the view:

Love London. Love Tate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *