OCA tutor (and figurative painter) Jim Cowan takes on the contemporary art scene below. What do you think of what he says?
Does the Tate Modern need to change its name? Is there a need in London for a new Tate Gallery? Deep down in the bowels of Tate Modern, three large oil storage tanks once used to store the fuel for the Giles Gilbert Scott designed power station have been turned into the newest contemporary art space in London. With the opening of these subterranean tanks would the name Tate Contemporary not best reflect its changing role?
A form of apartheid has grown up in the art world recently that likes to separate Traditional and Modern from the newer and much cooler Contemporary. With the term Modern now considered in some quarters not to reflect the art of the present time would not a change of name be more suitable? If this is the case then there must be other galleries that could be used to show off their core collection to better advantage.
Tate Modern is the flagship gallery of the Tate Gallery franchise, which has a number of outlets throughout the country. There is the laidback and hip -on the beach, sand between your toes Tate St Ives. Then there is the Tate Liverpool that was opened so as not to neglect the good folk up North and of course the original Tate at Millbank which houses British art to the present time.
The Industrial aesthetic of Tate Modern suits a certain kind of art. With its off white walls, lack of natural light, exposed pipes, escalators that start at the basement and miss out the ground floor and galleries that are really just corridors, it is no wonder that domestic size pictures and sculptures look uncomfortable on its walls and on their plinths.
The hang of the gallery is not chronological and what sense people make of the developments in the story of Modern art is anyone’s guess. This could be to disguise the weaknesses and gaps in the collection due to previous purchasing policies. The thematic hang has been with us for some time and the move towards more contemporary art is certainly a cheaper option.
Paintings by Matisse and Bonnard are crying out for Mediterranean light or a near equivalent. Cubist paintings now look like postage stamps hung as they are in the largest gallery in the building and the dense jumble sale hang of Surrealist pictures one above the other, jostling for space is really just insulting. Then there is the curious case of the figurative painters, a selection of mostly 20s and 30s artists who are found in a cul-de-sac of a gallery that leads nowhere. One is tempted to ask is this how the Tate Modern sees the continuing figurative tradition? Does figurative art end with Meredith Frampton?
The Tate Modern Gallery was designed for the 21st Century’s love affair with the art of the spectacle – film, video, performance, live art and installation and now a new term – Contemporary Participatory Practise – the bigger the better. With the right attractions to bring in the crowds, the newly opened Tanks will be an obvious hit with tourists and thrill seekers. The Café Voltaire has come of age, the Dadaist legacy has triumphed, the action has stepped down from the walls and space hungry art has found its home.
It is time now to create a new Tate Modern. Paintings need to be rescued from the gloom and shown to their best advantage. An excellent gallery already exists in London and is to be found not far from Tate Britain. Charles Saatchi opened this beautiful light filled space in 2008 and having sold off his collection of seminal works by the YBAs is using it to promote his latest trends and discoveries to a mostly unenthusiastic reception.
The time is right. Liberate paintings from Tate Modern, return them to the light and leave Contemporary Art Practice to make its home by the Thames at Southwark.