Saturday 27 January 2018

Tate Britain - the permanent collection

During our last visit to Tate Britain, we revisited some our favourites in the permanent collection.

Michael Sandle, Der Trommler, 1985, (bronze)

Jeremy Deller, The History of the World, 1997-2004, (graphite and acrylic paint on wall).

The History of the World takes the form of a flow diagram hand painted onto the wall. It shows the social, political and musical connections between acid house and brass band music. Deller says 'it was about Britain and British history in the 20th century and how the country had changed from being industrial to post-industrial'. Deller's work is often rooted in collaboration and engagement with people from outside the art world. This diagram provides the visual rationale for Deller's Acid Brass 1996 in which acid house music was arranged for and performed by a colliery brass band.

Lubaina Himid, The Carrot Piece, 1985, (acrylic paint on plywood, wood and cardboard and string)

The Carrot Piece shows a white man failing to tempt a black woman with a carrot. Her arms are already full of everything she needs. Himid says that when the work was made, cultural institutions 'needed to be seen' to be integrating black people into their programmes and 'we as black women understood how we were being patronised ... to be cajoled and distracted by silly games and pointless offers. We understood, but we knew what sustained us ... and what we really needed to make a positive cultural contribution: self-belief, inherited wisdom, education and love'.

Goshka Macuga, Death of Marxism, Women of All Lands Unite, 2013, (polyester, cotton, wool, nylon and elastane fabrics and performance)

Macuga places images of women from photographs by Miroslav Tichy around the London tomb of Karl Marx. Tichy was a Czech artist who took thousands of voyeuristic pictures of women. Macuga moves the women from passive objects of Ticky's gaze to active participants of a history that excluded them. At times during the display, two female performers will sit on the tapestry and discuss Marxist theory. The title humorously adapts Marx's famous slogan from the Communist Manifesto, 'Workers of all lands unite'.

Chris Ofili, Blue Devils, 2014, (oil paint and charcoal on canvas)

This work draws from the character of the blue devil in folklore from Trinidad, where Ofili lives. At carnival time, people from the town of Paramin dress up as devils and cover themselves in blue paint terrorising onlookers with blood, snakes and frogs. In the tradition of carnival, these blue 'devils' have permission to behave in a menacing and intrusive manner that would normally be prohibited by society. Ofili associates them with the 'boys in blue', the British police. The barely discernible images in the painting suggest misconduct occurring in a state of near invisibility.

Rita Donagh, Reflection on Three Weeks in May 1970, 1971, (oil paint and graphite on canvas)

This painting charts Donagh's response to a performance piece by the students she taught at the University of Reading. At the time of this class project four American students were killed by the
National Guard at Kent State University during a protest against the Vietnam War. Donagh incorporates references to the shooting into her work: the pink shape refers to a blood stain left on the floor from entrails used in the performance and to the killing of the student protestors. For Donagh the performance brought home the contrast between the relative safety of her group and the Kent State students.

I first saw Donagh's work in Ireland and was immediately hooked. You can see some of it here and here

Peter Blake, Portrait of David HOckney in a Hollywood Spanish Interior, 1965, (actylic paint, graphite and ink on canvas)

The painting is based on a photograph by Michael Cooper, showing Hockney in front of another photograph by Cooper of Spanish Interior. The setting is possibly a party in Hollywood. The fabricated nature of Blake's composition may be an allusion to Hollywood's reputation for superficiality.

Victor Pasmore, Relief Construction in White, Black and Maroon, 1962-63, (painted wood and Perspex)

Bridget Riley, Late Morning, 1967-8, (polyvinyl acetate paint on canvas)

Elisabeth Frink, Dying King, 1963, (bronze)

Frink's life-size figures of men often suggest the interdependence of their heroic success and savage failure. Her Dying King is an image of Shakespeare's Richard III defeated in battle.

As a type of fallen hero, this sculpture relates to a series of figures crashing down out of the sky which Frink began in the 1950s. She made these sculptures directly out of plaster, adding to an armature (a metal framework) and then cutting material away. In this way she could quickly make and alter shapes. This body looks emaciated and wounded, devastated by its fall to the ground.

Ben Nicholson, August 1956, (Val d'Orcia), 1956 (oil, gesso and graphite on board)

Francis Bacon, Study for a Portrait, 1952, (oil paint and sand on canvas)

One source for the figure here may be a film still from Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin in which an elderly nurse wearing cracked glasses opens her mouth in a silent scream.

Eduardo Paolozzi, Cyclops, 1957 (bronze)

The sculpture's pierced armour and dilapidated state has been seen as an ironic comment on the human condition in the nuclear age.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Glacier Crystal, Grindelwald, 1950, (oil on canvas)

This is one of several works painted following a visit to the Grindelwald Glacier in Switzerland in 1948 where Barns-Graham had direct experience of the monumental shape of the glacier, its light, and the contrast between solidity and glass-like transparency. This led her to attempt to combine multiple views 'from above, through and all around, as a bird flies, a total experience'.

Lynn Chadwick, Stabile with Mobile Elements (Maquette for 'Cypress'), 1950

The Festival of Britain in 1951 was conceived by the Labour government as a celebration of recovery and of British identity following WWII. The focal point of this national event was an exhibition on London's South Bank. Artists made works for the Festival and this is a model for a four metre-high sculpture in the small garden of the Regatta Restaurant. The sinuous form of this sculpture and its green colouring recall cypress trees from which the work gets its subtitle.

Mary Martin, Expanding Form, 1954, (wood and emulsion paint)

Expanding Form is constructed on a grid pattern of 12 units - six reliefs and six recessive spaces. The cubes are combined with smaller interlocking geometric elements. Martin often spoke about the importance of the surface of her works, and described the spaces between the relief sections as areas of play, opposition and even conflict. She described her working process as free from 'artistic interference' and any 'foreknowledge' of the final appearance of the work. The aesthetic of 'construction' was often determined by following mathematical models such as the Golden Section and Finobacci sequence of numbers.

Elisabeth Frink, Dead Hen, 1957, (bronze)

Frank frequently portrayed animals in her work. Birds, in particular, began to appear in her sculpture shortly after WWII. They were used by her as vehicles for strong feelings such as panic, tension or aggression. They have also been read as having connotations of military might, particularly air power. Although many of Frink's bird subjects appear predatory and aggressive, the hen in this work is a victim whose pose evokes the tragic aftermath of conflict. The sculpture is one of a series, made during the same period, depicting animals in their death throes.

Henry Moore, Half-figure, 1932

Henry Moore, Recumbent Figure (bronze)

Henry Moore, Helmet Head No. 4: Interior - Exterior, 1963, (bronze)

Henry Moore, Family Group, 1949, (bronze)

Henry Moore, King and Queen, 1952

Henry Moore, Draped Seated Figure, 1957-58, (bronze)

The style of drapery on this sculpture was seen in Moore's Shelter Drawings and derived from such ancient Greek sculptures as the figures from the Parthenon.

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure, 1951, (plaster and string)

Reclining Figure
is Moore's original plaster from which was cast the bronze sculpture commissioned by the Arts Council for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Moore held the sculpture in high regard, describing it as 'perhaps my first sculpture where the space and the form are completely dependent on and inseparable from each other'.

Henry Moore, Woman, 1957-58, (bronze)

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