Wednesday, September 17, 2008

About Turn – Tate Modern

When Tate Modern opened it decided to eschew the accepted narrative of chronological isms pioneered by Alfred Barr at MOMA in favour of thematic hanging designed to create interesting and new juxtapositions between artists who would normally inhabit different parts of the museum.

Arguably such a strategy has been a success with many major galleries worldwide adopting a similar approach and of course the ever-increasing visitor numbers would suggest that the public if not applauding the hanging policy are not staying away.

This morning on a visit to the Tate, I was struck by what random attractions the thematic Tate now offers. Re-hung many time since it opened I found myself on level 5 in States of Flux. A space “devoted to the early twentieth-century movements Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism”.

Ok so far so good but what do we get at the entrance to Sates of Flux but a Lichtenstein namely Whaam!. Hang on we must have taken a wrong turn and be in Pop Art? Ah but read on “Cubist innovations such as collage were central to the emergence of Pop Art which combined high and low culture, art and commerce into forceful, celebratory and sometimes critical visions of the post-war consumer era“. Well yes in a way, but this a possibly tentative connection and one, which is not really so robust on close scrutiny.

Elsewhere in States of Flux we find a room with a projection by Jonas Mekas, some Fluxus works (In a Sate of Flux(us) get it?), an After Impressionism room, a Pop Art room and so on. In other words it is a little all other place. Perhaps consequently so is the audience. The more informed can perhaps try to put the pieces of this tentative jigsaw together but most seemed happy to walk very quickly from room to room looking for the next attraction. Few if any were stopping to ponder or contemplate instead they wandered in and out of the rooms at speed looking pleasantly bewildered.

Part of me feels that this re-hang approach should be applauded; that to break away from the conveyor belt of art history is in many ways a positive thing. Certainly its nice to see something like a Mekas given the same weight and space as a Picasso. Too often though the thematic Tate Modern does not suggest a major reappraisal of art history or a studied re-valuation of works by lesser known artists it is all a little too tentative in its connections a little too pix and mix for that.