Tate Modern is London’s all-around stop for modern and contemporary art. There is everything from painting to performance art, sculpture to new media, and even a viewing platform from the new Blavatnik Building. Many visitors gawk at Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman (1937), marvel at Salvador Dalí’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937), and fall silent in the Mark Rothko Room. It is a place for the sceptics and traditionalists to find for themselves some redeeming quality among the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian, the performances of Marina Abramovic, or the installations of Sheela Gowda.
So, in this ever-expanding microcosm of modern and contemporary art, what is there at Tate Modern that is worth tracking down?
Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, The Tiled Room (original title: La Chambre à carreaux), 1935
The sensation of playing with one’s visual perceptions is what I have always loved about this work. The colourful tiles are dizzying and rhythmic. The perspectival lines guide us into this magical room which would be a lot of fun if it were real. Yet the real magic is the artist’s ability to create an immersive, semi-abstract environment from nothing more than grids and colours. It is a simple creation that offers a complex, psychologically-charged aesthetic experience.
Jiro Takamatsu, Oneness of Cedar, 1970
Yes, this is part of a tree. No, I am not crazy. Part of his Oneness series, the emergence of a plank of wood from a cedar log is Takamatsu’s attempt to explore the transformative potential of ordinary materials:
‘I began to think that inside that tree, there must also exist a square pillar, the surface of which could be planed smoothed like the pillars that were used to build my house’.
In this case, there is a clear relationship between the natural world and the industrialist, consumer culture of post-war Japan. More importantly, Takamatsu is contemplating mankind’s relationship with the natural world, a theme which is not only universal but very relevant today.
Nam June Paik, Nixon, 1965-2002
Video installations are not the easiest of artworks to engage with. They demand attention and patience. One must sit through it to figure out an inkling of its intention and purpose as a work of art. This doesn’t seem to be the case for Nam June Paik’s Nixon, a compilation of footage of former American president Richard Nixon’s speeches broadcasted on two television monitors with magnetic coils on each screen. These coils alternate between the two screens to warp and disrupt the footage, presenting a commentary on the manipulative nature of state-controlled broadcasts. A section of Tate’s collection entry on this work is especially informative:
‘Reconfigured and stabilised using modern circuitry and voltage control in 2002, when Nam June Paik was living and working in New York, Nixon incorporates the artist’s techniques of image manipulation. In 1960s America, the television broadcasting industry was controlled by a set of rules and standards that dictated what could and could not be shown. For Paik, however, television represented a two-way communication network that was both voyeuristic and participatory – not simply a means by which to receive state programming. Through its wilful distortion of the power of political speech, Nixon questions the control exerted by individuals in positions of influence and the ways in which they make use of popular broadcasting methods such as television to mediate and shape their rhetoric.’
3-2-C is a new series of blog posts devoted to presenting an alternative selection of ‘must-see’ exhibits from museum and gallery collections in the UK and around the world.