The Tate Modern
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Tate Modern in London. I didn’t have as much time to wander around and contemplate the art as I would have liked, but I was able to make several observations:
I. I discovered the “missing link” between realism and abstraction-Monet’s paintings.
Monet: Water-Lilies. On a screen the subject matter of this painting becomes more obvious. However, stand in front of it as it stretches from wall to wall and it becomes easy to forget that it’s a painting of Monet’s water-lilies and to get lost in the abstract texture, color and form.
Some abstract artists work in a way that highlights the beauty of texture, color, and form without obviously referencing the visual world we are familiar with. This becomes a stumbling block to many viewers who have difficulty seeing the craft or level of care put into such paintings because they are looking for the world they know. However, paintings like the above serve as a reminder that the beauty of nature is abstract. Trees, mountains, sunsets, etc. are not beautiful because they look like themselves, but because of their forms, colors, and textures. Monet and the other impressionists began paving the way for abstraction by seeking to depict the beauty of the world in a way that would help their audience see with fresh eyes.
II. The Tate used a combination of past and modern art to help viewers understand what they were seeing and to show them how to approach the art.
Understanding art requires an understanding of each movement’s place in art history. Art works derive some of their significance from their location in history. In several exhibits the Tate would provide examples of past art that influenced modern artists to help viewers better understand some of the artistic decisions the artists had made.
Mark Rothko greatly admired the work J.M.W. Turner’s. Particularly his later paintings which are pared back to be almost pure evocations of light and mood.
No. 8 by Mark Rothko
Black on Maroon by Mark Rothko
III. My favorite painting at the Tate, and the one I felt was the most visually striking, was Max Ernst’s “The Entire City.”
I know some artists and critics who balk at the idea of picking a favorite work of art after visiting a museum. My art education helps me to appreciate and understand art that I may not like, but I still gravitate towards work that I find beautiful or attractive. It is human nature to categorize things based on our personal preference, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as one can move past that and see the merit in work they may not like.
The Entire City by Max Ernst. Ernst used a technique called Grattage in which we would place a canvas over a rough surface and scrape paint across it to create rich textures.
IV. The more contemporary the art, the less information or explanation accompanies it.
One thing that frustrated me was the lack of information on contemporary art pieces. This was all the more irritating because most of the art from more than twenty years ago had a paragraph or two to help viewers understand the work better. Famous paintings which many viewers likely would have learned about in school were still accompanied by basic explanations. Yet the more contemporary work, which the average viewer would likely have no familiarity with, would frequently lack any kind of conceptual framework or title.
V. Art that illuminates music- Gerhard Richter’s Cage paintings. (Description taken from Tate exhibit)
“Richter’s monumental Cage paintings were completed in 2006 and first exhibited at the 2007 Venice Biennale. Like his earlier squeegee abstractions, they are the outcome of several layers of painting and erasure. Their surfaces are animated by lines where the squeegee has paused, by brushstrokes, other scrapings, and areas where the skin of oil paint has dried and rippled. Cage 1 with its soft lateral striations evokes the surface of a gently running river; in Cage 2 a veil of grey covers autumnal yellows like a thin mist; in Cage 3 grey paint seems much more material recalling the coarse surface of a concrete wall. Deep reds dominate the upper and lower section of Cage 4 and are more concealed in Cage 5. Cage 6has the greatest chromatic range but there is still a sense of understatement and muted light.
Richter was listening to the music of John Cage while he worked on these paintings and titled them after the composer. He has long been interested in Cage’s ideas about ambient sound and silence, and has approvingly quoted his statement ‘I have nothing to say and I am saying it’. Richter is also drawn to Cage’s rejection of intuition as well as total randomness, planning his compositions through structures and chance procedures. While there are no direct links between any particular work in this series and any composition by Cage, some critics have suggested affinities between the two figures’ approaches and between the constant flux in Cage’s music and the space created by Richter’s paintings.”
Cage 4 by Gerhard Richter
V. Whenever I visit at museum or gallery I make a list of artists I want to research later.
The Corridor by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva
Crucifixion by F.N. Souza
Lee Ufan. I found this painting quite striking and evocative. Ufan’s process was mechanically precise; he would load a paintbrush and run it down the canvas until it ran out of paint, repeating this process until reaching the edge of his surface. Despite the simple approach , this painting has a great deal of depth, interesting form, and suggestive power.
Moment by Barnett Newman. This was one of his first paintings to include the famous “zip”.
Lares by Paul Nash