TRASH N' TATE
Helen Weston visits the Tate Modern
theres enough trash in every town, city and household bin for the
entire world to see. So why go all the way to London, when we can make
our own collage at home?
On entering the Gilbert Scott gallery (Still life) at the Tate
Modern, the first displayed theme is The Desire
for Order. The introduction displayed by the Tate stated that
the artists included in this section used revolutionary methods
to overturn traditional artistic conventions. (Fairly obvious for
modern art, I thought!). By using traditional still life as a vehicle
for pictorial experiment they defiantly challenged traditional modes
of artistic representation. (Well thats my shortened version,
after a fairly gruelling dissection of the waffle!). The introduction
also stated the artists demonstration through their work of
the continuity of the human desire for order.
Being a traditional
art lover, I did not intend to be moved or impressed, my expectations
were to gratify my own cynical view of the modern artists. However after
only a few minutes in this section I admitted to be standing rather
The first work to draw my attention was Sol Lewitt Five forms
derived from a cube (1982). Five separate pictures of geometric
shapes, that have been systematically generated from a cube. At first
glance, my trail of thought was: what we all could do with a ruler and
pencil? After bothering to read the Tates interpretation, which
explained the artists motive behind the works, my rusty clockwork
mind started to let in some light. Lewitt did not produce the prints,
just the idea, design and instructions. He wanted to minimise his physical
presence in the process of fabrication, and thus the idea becomes a
machine that creates and produces the art itself.
Teachers and young students all armed with clipboards were enthusiastically
scurrying around, the jingle of keys and bleeps from mobile phones were
surrounding me. But I was frozen to the spot, totally aware but not
distracted. Visions of the industrial revolution and Henry Ford came
flooding into my mind provoking feelings of fear, dread and resentment
toward capitalism, but at the same time invoking a real sense of amazement
and wonder towards technology. I was moved. It spoke volumes to me.
Amongst other works were Steel and Zinc Plain (1969) by Carl Andre.
This to me resembled an enlarged metal chessboard, suitable for people
to play on as human chess pieces. But unfortunately it didnt say
much else, apart from yes mathematics is all about order! And oh! It
must be very cold to stand on? Also an untitled piece (1980) by Donald
Judd. A large construction of steel, aluminium and perspex stacks. Reaching
from floor to ceiling in a pre-determined geometric order with equal
gaps in-between each stack. Although giving a very powerful presence
partly I think due to its size, human beings, as ordered in society
as we are, like to label everything. So in my opinion this work of art
really appears to be quite naked, in this section of the gallery, and
therefore quite obviously deserves either a title, or perhaps to belong
to a different theme or display altogether.
I continued through the gallery, which I found to be larger, more spacious
and contained many more theme display areas than I had expected. Ambling
along, taking in the odd sculpture or two. I stopped, I admit mainly
for a rest and sat on a convenient bench, which was placed for the visitors
to view The Mechanical Ballet (1924) by Fernand Leger. This
was a series of script and moving pictures that were projected onto
a screen. It was indeed a very cosy and quiet spot for a much-needed
rest. If I had bothered to read any interpretation and stayed to observe
the screen, I'm sure the art would have provoked some emotion and understanding,
but I was only interested in taking advantage of the seating, to rest
my tired and aching body. I am disabled so I sit and rest, as I like.
Inappropriate and disrespectful as it may seem (especially for Fernand
Leger fans) Im sure that my surgeon, when viewing the x-rays of
the metal construction he attached to my spine, would agree and therefore
consider my reconstructed body in itself to be a work of art! I think
that I have earned the right to sit and rest in an art gallery, because
medically speaking, I am indeed a living, moving work of art. Although
I dont suppose for one moment the Tate would be interested in
displaying or projecting my x-rays in any of their galleries.
Moving on, I discovered the Modern life area, which displayed many sculptures,
paintings, prints and a collage or two. One of which, I took an instant
dislike, it actually made me feel quite angry. This reaction, Im
sure, was not the artists intention. The Tate used this work to
demonstrate and explain with their own text; the cubist works in this
section. While reading the text, I understood that by adding mass produced
objects to the canvas, the still life collage expressed the three dimensionality
of these objects, by showing, as the Tate explained, simultaneous viewpoints
on the same plane, or space which my simplified interpretation allowed.
The artist used everyday discarded items (materials) including theatre
tickets and product labels, transforming the detritus of urban life
into art. Fair enough and very interesting I thought to myself.
When I viewed Kurt Schwitters picture of spatial growths-picture
with two small dogs, which truly was an assemblage of discarded
rubbish! All I viewed was decaying brown tinged trash, that was thankfully
and safely contained in glass. Did the artist hate the canine species?
Perhaps my eyesite failed, as if trying to view a magic eye picture?
Maybe the dogs had decayed altogether after all this time, I did see
a bit of dust that had collected at the bottom of the glass case. Im
sure that originally the colour of the theatre tickets and product labels,
must of given this work the artistic value and recognition that it deserved.
But today in my view it only resembled trash, nasty brown tinged trash.
And theres enough trash in every town, city and household bin
for the entire world to see. So why go all the way to London, when we
can make our own collage at home?
The Tate boasts that it has the greatest collection of British Art,
therefore providing and helping the ordinary folk like myself, to understand
and enjoy art. Also they help promote interest in the British Art Industry
and of course the British Artists. Well I'm no expert or patriot but
they certainly helped me. I found my visit to the Tate Modern inspirational,
evocative and most certainly educational. But most of all I left the
building refreshed and with the comforting knowledge that in these times
of fierce capitalist consumerism, young and new artists who are trying
to make their way in to this fat industry stand a chance. Or in other
words, its nice to know that the Tate bothered.
You too can visit the Tate here www.tate,org.uk
© Helen Weston 2001
Reply to this Article
Back to Front page