We entered through the 'side doors', stepping directly into the famous Turbine Hall - the biggest art space in the world – that is not including… the world and the large scale earthworks that exist elsewhere, constructed by artists like James Turrell and the founder of eARTh, Robert Smithson …and not forgetting the original Norse Danavirki - but it is a huge space and was once a main attraction of the gallery. Some spectacular, huge, challenging work would welcome visitors and really make a statement that you had arrived at a Modern Art Museum with a BIG difference.
I’m getting nostalgic now, recalling earlier visits when we experienced Anish Kapoor’s Marsyas that filled the space, while leaving much of it empty, Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project, aka 'the indoor sun', that had people basking on the concrete beach of the hall, Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth that truly used the structure of the building and influenced people's movement through the vast emptiness (short video below, courtesy of The Guadian). All impressive, innovative works that really engaged the audience and used the space to best effect. Since those early days, when the Tate was obviously rising to the challenge and making a real effort to utilise the huge void, the Turbine Hall has been repeatedly disappointing.
This time, Richard Tuttle’s huge structure of exotic fabric and marine ply was suspended at the far end of the hall. The sculpture itself was intriguing and a good conversation point - making use of the two viewing angles, from the ground and the mezzanine, but had no harmony with the space it occupied. Perhaps the awkwardness was the point, as it tried to fly yet remained contained? Or was it the aerofoil forms in opposition to the Brutalist, earthbound squareness of the old power station architecture? It did not seem like a sculpture that used this unique space, just one that would not fit anywhere else. For such a monumental work, its dialogue with the surroundings seemed surface and slight. I suppose the difference is that this was a sculpture, not an installation... Perhaps Tuttle was not so sure himself, he did title the work, I Don’t Know. (If the Tate curators are stuck for works that can fill the space effectively, I would be very happy to negotiate! Ohh, get him! The arrogance of the lad!)
Tate Modern houses a truly world-class collection of the Modern that will never disappoint. This time, highlights included re-discovering Giuseppe Penone’s Tree of 12 Metres - the elegant form of a tree reclaimed from within an industrial wooden beam, by carving back from the surface following the knot-patterns in the grain to reveal the branch pattern of a younger version of the original tree. Most sculptors visualise a form within a mass and carve away material to reveal that imagined form. Penone has used a very similar approach, but here the form he has revealed did actually exist within the mass and the materials guided his carving. This reflects his interest in materials and processes: the natural process of growth, followed by the industrial process of the saw-mill and then the artistic process of wood carving, serving here as a sort of time travel. This focus on Process Art led Penone to be linked with the Italian Arte Povera movement of the 1960s and also aligns him with the approaches of other important artists including Yves Klein and Joseph Beuys.
My favourite room in Tate Modern would be the Joseph Beuys set-up including the installation Lightning with Stag in its Glare, but on this visit I discovered what may well be a new favourite room: Level 4: Room 7 - here you can surround yourself with Cy Twombly’s monumental series of paintings celebrating Bacchus. The energetic and enigmatic, brush-on-long-stick gestures of running red paint evoke the blood and wine of a Bacchanalian orgy and the Romantic Peak Experience.
|Cy Twombly's invigorating Bacchus paintings (2008) dominate the room.|
The small Nam June Paik room was also worth some time. I particularly enjoyed the twin television set playback of Nixon talking as electro-magnetic tori alternated their power, causing the screen images to distort and split into rainbow interference patterns, fascinating to watch and a poetic representation of media distortions of the ‘truth’.
|Nam June Paik's radio assemblage, Bakelite Robot (2002). |
Do we see ourselves in our technology?
Just off Russell Square in the Neo-Brutalist Brunswick Centre we dined at Carluccio’s. As always, great atmosphere with lots of people chatting to create an informal, noisy ambience that makes your own un-guarded conversation easier – fine for relaxing with friends and for family gatherings. The food is traditional Italian, as you may expect, prepared quickly to a good standard… great value for great quality. There is a good children’s menu that comes with a generous fun-activity pack while you wait. We started with the chicken liver pâté, possibly the best I have tasted! Then there is a variety of pastas and sauces on offer as well as alternatives to pasta… I went for Milanese-style (flattened bread-crumbed and fried) chicken breast, sided with rocket and baby gem lettuce and accompanied by the crisply refreshing draught Peroni in its trade-mark tall glass... a small piece of Italy.
Next: A Saturday in London