A Tate Day Out

Easter Sunday, for the agnostics amongst us, poses no routine obligation (family get-together, trip to church) but, as a national holiday – is a good opportunity to take-a-break.

In multi-cultural London – the shops don’t even close, necessarily. Why should they? We don’t all believe it is necessary to celebrate the supposed resurrection of Christ (or the resurrection of supposed Christ).

Anything being open during a holiday period is rather novelty – having spent two years living in Somerset, where shops are fervently shut every Sunday, and often Monday. And so I decided to take a trip to the Tates – to refill my somewhat waning cultural tank – and soak up the tourist vibes.

Tate Britain, with the lure of Picasso’s masterpieces, was first point of call. Picasso & Modern British Art documents both Picasso’s painting career – and snippets of other artist’s careers – who were influenced by his work.

His painting is beautiful and evocative, colourful and full of unspoken narratives. Despite having visited a wonderful, vast exhibition of his work at the National Gallery a few years ago, I will always make time to re-visit Picasso’s paintings.

Though initially slightly disappointed that it had to be compared to the work of other artists – wondering if this was merely to pad out the space – I soon realised that it is important to place his paintings – and the creations of other artists – in comparative, cultural contexts.

It was amazing to see, and read about, how Picasso inspired David Hockney, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore – among others.

Hockney visited Picasso’s exhibition at the Tate, in the 60s, repeatedly – revelling in the artist’s fearless exploration of different forms and mediums. He then allowed himself to experiment, rather than having to formulate a signature style, or adhere to one medium. Hockney’s Picasso-inspired photographic collage is wonderful, as are his quaint etchings – created for a commemorative collection.

I had not, until yesterday, drawn parallels between Moore’s bronze sculptures of voluptuous women and Picasso’s female forms – but the link is incredible. It is suggested that Moore used Picasso’s drawings to inform his sculptural forms – but I believe both artists probably inspired one another.

That Picasso dabbled in costume design came as a surprise to me and, though I wasn’t particularly interested in the costumes he made for theatre, I liked the colourful design sketches.

The final room of the exhibition is devoted to a sole painting, considered – by Picasso himself – to be one of his two greatest works. The Three Dancers, painted on a large canvas, depicts three dancers in Picasso-esque obscure forms, and is a wonderful piece to end on. I bought a print of it then sauntered out of Tate Britain, feeling rather high.

I walked along the river to Tate Modern, in the hope of seeing either Yayoi Kusama – or Damian Hirst. And, amazingly – managed to get into both. The joys of a Tate membership.

Hirst was first. The clinical white walls of Tate Modern create the perfect backdrop to his often clinical – or scientific – works. The familiar culprits – Mother and Child Divided (dissected cow in tank, next to dissected calf in tank) were on display, with the sheeps heads, open-jawed shark and huge sculpture made of dead flies. They don’t continue to wow – but they weren’t boring to see again, either.

As you walk around the gallery, you suddenly become grossly aware of the pong of stale cigarettes. Then you notice a huge ashtray, full of fag butts and ash, entitled: Crematorium. Representing both a life-time’s worth of smoked cigarettes, and the cremated remains (of a smoker?) – this piece shocks and disgusts.

Brief respite from the gory was to be found in Room 8 – with The Spin Paintings. The title is fairly self-explanatory – circular boards spin whilst Hirst (or one of his many ‘helpers’) splash brightly coloured paint all over it. The result is a paint-splattered circular board. It is uplifting and fun. So is the beach ball, perpetually suspended in mid-air by a constant stream of air from below.

Towards the end of the exhibition, there is a room dedicated to Hirst’s religious preoccupations – with mosque and church windows made out of butteryfly-wing mosaics. At this point, I decided that to kill so many animals and insects for your work is not only cruel – but also incredibly arrogant. And I realised that despite his fairly original ideas and concepts – Hirst is not someone I’d invite to my dream dinner party.

The inclusion of tens of medicine cabinets grew boring after a while. Though I did like the huge mirrored cabinet filled with different varieties of colourful pills, neatly arranged like sweets in a sweet shop. He then ruins this by doing the same thing, but with fake diamonds, in the gold bling room towards the end – unashamedly boasting his obsession with wealth and riches.

The white dove, suspended in a tank – is the final exhibit. And then you enter the shop where you can purchase editions of Hirst’s work for a mere £30,000. A final laugh, at the consumer’s expense.

And so on to Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective.

This exhibiiton is chockablock with spots and colour, beautiful paintings, drawings, provocative phallic installations (made during a time of sexual discomfort and paranoia), experimental film and paraphanelia from Kusama’s years organising ‘Happenings’ – as she tried to break into the New York art scene.

I loved this notice:

The undeniable highlight, however, has to be the room-sized installations towards the end of the exhibition. The first, inspired by her natural hallucinations, is a darkened room with UV lights – lighting up the primary-coloured polka dots, adorning the every day items found in a sitting room – a magazine, a photo of Kusama, a mirror, a coffee table, etc.

The last installation, with a warning that some people may experience disorientation, is a mirrored room, clad with low-hanging light balls, that change colour – from purple and silver to Christmassy red and green. It feels as if you’re in Las Vegas. And then a strip club. And then just simply tripping – hard – on acid.

Before getting told off by the guard – I managed to take a picture of Rich in this disco eternity:

I loved reading about Kusama’s life – her anxieties, obsession with love and the struggle she encoutered as a Japanese, female artist – trying to find success in a male-dominated white Western world. And then observing her wonderful art work – and all that she managed to achieve – in spite of what probably seemed like a succession of insurmountable obstacles.

Picasso’s work shows devotion and labour. Hirst’s work is representative of a bright – but lazy – contemporary artist. And Kusama’s art is both traditional and contemporary – the most diverse of the three exhibitions.

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