This was my first chance to visit to the Tate Modern and I think I would have gone no matter what was on display. I was anxious to see what had been done with the converted power generating station and to walk through one of the world’s most famous galleries. I arrived a little late in the day, however, and only had time to take in two of the shows: Picasso 1932: Love, Fame and Tragedy and Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art.
The Picasso exhibition was dedicated to a single year within the artist’s life that was a time of transition for him in terms of his personal life (end of a marriage, infatuation with a new and younger woman) and his art (questions about his ability to produce fresh and exciting work, now that he had reached middle age).
The biographical context for the show was interesting and helpful although I found that I have not (yet?) become a Picasso fan. I am well aware of the artist’s influence on the direction of 20th century art but sometimes the abstract paintings of women start to look the same to me.
I was very surprised to find, then, how often I appreciated the initial sketches of his work rather than the finished pieces. Without garish colour and with less distinct lines, the drawings had a lightness and playfulness that I found appealing. If anything, they might encourage me to go back to the paintings with fresh eyes.
From the Tate Modern catalogue:
Shape of Light is the first major exhibition to explore the relationship between the two, spanning the century from the 1910s to the present day. It brings to life the innovation and originality of photographers over this period, and shows how they responded and contributed to the development of abstraction.
Key photographs are brought together from pioneers including Man Ray and Alfred Stieglitz, major contemporary artists such as Barbara Kasten and Thomas Ruff, right up to exciting new work by Antony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota, made especially for the exhibition.
This was a wide-ranging exhibition, in terms of the period covered, the techniques employed and the artists represented. Although many of the pieces were considered daring or avant-garde in their day, quite a few now seem old-fashioned. I think this may have to do with the fact that the works are dependent on the particular characteristics of technologies that are now outmoded. They may have a momentary revival or nostalgic value, but their time has passed. By contrast, the Picasso paintings on show at the Tate—although older than a lot of the pieces in the Shape of Light show—continue to have a life about them, perhaps because the processes and materials involved in painting canvas have not become as tied to a particular era and then left behind.
Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, no photography was allowed in this exhibit.