By N. James McCormack
Good art has the capacity to transform and represent something already familiar. Many of the works at the exhibition A Bigger Splash” – British Art from the Tate 1960-2003, currently showing at Parque Ibirapuera, do this. The general verdict is that – in the hundred odd pieces on show – a large number are well worthwhile.
The curators (Joanne Bernstein and Catherine Kinley) decided to examine work from the last ten years and trace it’s roots back over forty years, including both individuals and groups. The work ranges from the Pop Art of the 1960’s to abstraction and new sculpture in the 80’s to the “BritArt” of the 1990’s. Daily life is seen through the eyes of Bacon, Leon Kossof, RB Kitaj, Freud and Auerbach. while another group draw on their own experience and reflect something of urban energy – namely Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Gillian
The appropriation of
– the body by Gormely and Chadwick
– ready-mades by Craig-Martin, Cragg, Wentworth, Woodrow and
– biography : Susan Hiller, Mona Hatoum, Emin
– Political/Social system – Donald Rodney, Mark Wallinger, Layla
Curtis, Emma Kay
– Image : Peter Doig, Michjeal Raedecker, Douglas Gordon
– and Photos.
also tracked – History of abstraction, development of feminism and the legacy of surrealism .
The exhibition – in generally chronological order – starts at the top of OCA (a round building) and spirals down to the basement and 2002/2003.
David Hockney has three notable pieces in the show, the first of which,
“A Bigger Splash” (above) – gives it’s name to the exhibition and is one of the best known pieces in the Tate collection. It is a large acrylic painting on canvas of a swimming pool with a diving board – with a house and palm trees in the background. The blocks of colour are like that of a silkscreen print, with a very white, solid, but well observed splash of a just-submerged diver – no longer visible. The flatness, simplicity, action – show the beginnings of pop art in action. The sub-theme of the presence of a person indicated by their absence shows the beginning of a new approach
“Mrs and Mrs Clark and Percy – (Acrylic on canvas 1970-71) – Is full of light- like a fresco. The couple are separated by the balcony door half open – lighting the scene He is in bare feet, sitting, with the cat, informal, peaceful ,domestic.
“Painting in an Illusionistic Style” (1961) Typhoo tea with a figure done in a crude style.
1962 – “The First Marriage” is expressive – church, palm tree, couple, bare canvas left – as Bacon did in later work.
Hockney’s background is the Royal College of Art- his influences TV, cartoon, packaging., He likes to deal with the figure and portray
intimacy , heroes and “what he likes”
Bacon‘s work “Seated figure”(1961 – oil on canvas)
“Study for Portrait on folding bed”(1963 oil on canvas)
“Three Studies for Figures at the base of a Crucifixion – second
with monsters –
blind and howling in the torment of the human condition. The first version had a scarlet background – this one ruby blood red – both still contain a nauseous horror that strikes to the heart.
“Three figures and portrait” There is a distortion of the figures with pastel used alongside oil paint to intensify the colour.
Bacon likes to work “as near to my nervous system as possible” and has also said “realism must be reinvented”. He does both of these things with the work shown here.
The following four painters are collectively know as the School of
Kossoff with “ChristChurch , Spitalfields, morning” – large black
and white piece – like Monet cathedral series – well executed.
presents us with “Cecil court, WC2″(1983-84 oil on canvas) a jigsaw, a collage of the type and ages of life, colourful and full of vitality
Auerbach in his work here shows strong composition, but lack of form and muddy colour – showing nothing original, but seems to be imitating Jack B Yeats and doing it badly. If he were not part of the School of London he would be better left out.
On the contrary Freud “Leigh Bowery” (1981 oil on canvas ) a small protrait – head on shoulder – like Mondigliano with real flesh and
warts . Freuds portrait brings a pastel-like transparency to paint.
This technique is also applied to his life size nudes (sadly lacking in this exhibition).
Moving on to Patrick Caulfield, his dominating and vibrant
“Hemingway never ate here” (1999) manages to combine cubist,
illusionistic and realistic all in one. The painting has two distinct areas – the left being completely abstract except for the collaged shelf bracket – the right with the bulls head and table with wine and bottle.
However his “battlement”, a simple painting /drawing of a castellated wall – is bewildering alongside the previous piece.
I have seen some of Richard Hamilton‘s work that I have simply not liked –
here there are several pieces that show an original approach to print. –
in the tradition of the Slade school, where he studied. The exhibition has several of his screenprints on paper, including “Guggenheim”(a print of the museum , simple and refreshing)
and Swingeing London lll (1972) alongside lithograph “Swingeing London 67″(1967-8) – both the lithograph and screen print are of the same image
– Mick Jagger and the artists then representative, Fraser, after facing drugs charges. This is good use of the same image in different media.
Further lithographs, photos, screen prints and laser prints are on show.
The so-called “New generation”of British artists are represented by
Riley – as always technically perfect, here represented by “Hesitate” from 1964 – a black and white optical/illusionistic painting with different sized dots creating the illusion of a wave or step on the surface. What the lady does – she does well !
>From the same period a large metal sculpture from Sir Anthony
Caro, painted red, entitled “Early One Morning” – for it’s time it was new and exciting but has been too much repeated to bear seeing in any new light.
John Hoyland‘s monumental painting – an abstract strip of brown above a backbround of green /orange/green almost completely covered in two red patches, called 17.6.69 – suggests by the date (St. Patrick’s day) and the colour (green/orange) that the Irish are dominated by the red.
Barry Flanagan‘s 1967 sculpture Rope, Canvas, Sand – seems to start to break the ground between sculpture and installation.
Gilbert and George continue to poke fun at everyone, in both good and bad taste with photos and painting mounted to wall size- in “England” (1980), “Cunt Scum” (1977 – where the only really identifiable person in the crowd is a policeman) and “Red Morning Trouble” from the same period.
The section on New Approaches to Landscape claims that Richard Long
poetically evokes landscape. He does with “South Bank Circle” (1991 –
Delabone Slate) – pieces of slate from where he walked, and with his photo of where he walked. The squiggly line he drew to represent where he walked remains for me something formal and abstract and totally unevocative of landscape. [Richard Long’s type of work would be better represented by Andy Goldsworthy and his interventions in the landscape]
Some of the work in the following section from the 1980’s could politely be termed “looking up your own navel” or more impolitely “looking up another part of your anatomy” (or worse, the artists anatomy.)
Micheal Craig Martin and his “Oak Tree” – which consists of a small square glass shelf with a glass of water fixed to the wall above head height (presumably to insinuate the presence of an Oak Tree). I find this kind of artwork offensive, especially from a lecturer and tutor – it has no message, no beauty, no comment – I would rather have the most taboo subject approached in the most insulting fashion by Gilbert and George, and have it done intelligently, rather than have my actual intelligence insulted by. If the water evaporates and is replaced by the curator – is this no longer the artist’s work ? Slightly better is his large drawing on the wall with acrylic tape “Reading with Globe” (1980).
Richard Wentworth “Dip”(1985 Galvanized steel and soap) is exactly that – the suggestion of a steel bath – I see no art here – more a catalog for constructing/taking a bath. The same artists work with a steel ladder, aluminium shadow and cable reflection (all in distorted ladder shapes) has some artistic merit – however the title 35 32’18; –
presumably of some geographical place – did not inspire me enough to look up the coordinates. Two chairs stacked with two lead balls hanging from them called “Siege” simply is not art.
The exception in this section is Bill Woodrow with “English Heritage – Humpty Fucking Dumpty” (1982) which must have given the artist even more pleasure in the making than the viewer in seeing. It consists of a gym horse, the levels divided by a book, a nuclear waste drum and a steel file box – crowned by a Humpty made of a copper cistern on legs and wearing an improvised bow-tie.
Tony Cragg is not well represented here with “Axehead” (1982 wood and mixed media) – the items are standing in the form of a man-sized axehead. It works with homogenous material (like Richard Long) , not mixed.
Skip Anthony Gormley but stop for Anish Kapoor (untitled -1983 – pigment and styrofoam) – sculptured coloured forms that hold the eye.
The next group of artists is from the 80’s and 90’s. Starting withRachel Whiteread – whose work supposedly works with architectural spaces. – we have a polyurethane rubber mattress, which is the said mattress leaning against the wall, alongside some similarly inspired pieces. Susan Hiller – in “Monument” (1980-81 – photomontage) shown like wall-mounted plaques to ordinary heroes. A park bench and audio tape accompany the images to explain the individual heroics of those on the wall. There are 41 plaques – the age of the artist at the time.
Mona Hatoum shows two unfortunate steel pieces –
“Incommunicado”(1983, steel cot) and “Untitled” (1998, wheelchair).
Sarah Lucas contributes with three large Inkjet prints including “Self Portrait with Fried Eggs” (1996) – very Daliesque as she balances the eggs on her breasts. However her “Pauline Bunny” sculpture (1994 –
chair and pantyhose) is a disappointment – feminist propaganda and flashy advertising rather than feminist art or any other form.
Christine Borland‘s “Phantom Twins” fall into the same category of disappointing floppy dolls installation.
A good series of photos follow :
Ronald Rodney “In the House of My father” (1996-7 – photo on
paper on Aliminium) – a huge hand holding a tiny paper house , Helen
Chadwick‘s photos “Enfleshings ” l and ll – Arranging and trimming
raw meat into beautifully formed human flesh – the raw texture preserves the feeling of fragility and the material is transformed.
Good art has the capacity to transform and represent something already familiar.
Cathy de Monchaux work lacks feeling, but the History and Topography section is worth remembering – from Emma Kay, Kathy Prendergast, Layla Curtis “The Bible From Memory” (text – the Bible and history as people remember it not as taught) , “Lost” (a map with only “lost” labels and placenames) , “United Kingdom” on similar lines –
relabelled, and “The Great Bear” (London Underground relabelled as famous people – with “star” lines ).
Coming to Contemporary Painting – Mark Wallinger “Half Brother
(Exit to Nowhere – Machiavellian” (oil on canvas 1994-5 two halves –
one magnificent painting – originally spotted by the Saatchis, who also initially took up Damien Hirst (below). The other artists
paintings (Raedecker, Doig ) are disappointing with the exception of the abstract “Night Vision” which combines acrylic and oil in well executed, good, technique. Lisa Milroy‘s “Finsbury Square” –
like an architects illustration of the front face of a building – is powerful – Paul Graham‘s photos are well observed, and Hannah Starkey‘s photos with mirrors quite striking.
Sarah Jons has some startling compositons with people while
Seamus Nicholson and Richard Billing add nothing to the dialogue.
Julian Opie “Escaped Animals” Essentially animal symbol bright road signs are fun and thought provoking, and in the last place
Damien Hirst with “Last Supper” – thirteen pieces of screenprint
on paper – pill boxes, pharmaceutical packages with food names on them and health warnings. tecnhically perfect, bus as with all his work, this golden boy of the Saatchis has no passion despite his work about flesh and killer instinct.
The curators claim this work “perfectly encapsulates the exhibition”. I would reserve that place for Cornelia Parker with “Thirty Pieces
of Silver” – thirty silver trays suspended in rows just below waist level and filled with silverware – teapots – cutlery. Visually beautiful, well lit – and with a moral that encapsulates much of the exhibition – and eclipses the profissional snideness of Damien Hirst
The video work from this exhibition is on display at Instituto Tomie Ohtake
Bigger Splash” – British Art from the Tate 1960-2003
(OCA) – Parque Ibirapuera until 26th of October
Phone: (11) 3252-5300
Hours: Tuesday to Friday 09:00 to 21:00; Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 10:00 to 21:00
Entry fee: R$6 – concessions R$3
Instuto Tomie Ohtake ( for video part of exhibition) -phone
*N. James McCormack is a freelance writer and practicing artist.