Two shows at the Tate Modern

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.

Pablo Picasso —  Femme nue, feuilles et buste , 1932

Pablo Picasso — Femme nue, feuilles et buste, 1932

Pablo Picasso —  Jeune fille devant un miroir , 1932

Pablo Picasso — Jeune fille devant un miroir, 1932

Pablo Picasso —  Femme à la fleur, écrivant , 1932

Pablo Picasso — Femme à la fleur, écrivant, 1932

Pablo Picasso —  Femme nue couchée , 1932

Pablo Picasso — Femme nue couchée, 1932

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.

Start creating, like a thief

A quick plug for Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon.

I bought this book on someone's recommendation, without giving it much thought. It was so small and cartoonish when it arrived, however, that I assumed I had made a mistake. As it turned out, I enjoyed it. I found it simple but not simplistic. If your goal is to create, the brief lessons in the book could help you to jump-start your creative juices and get moving on actually making something. Or you could find a longer book that you will never finish and be happy to have an excuse not to make a start.

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The Louvre: from Mona to Marianne

What could I say about the Musée du Louvre that hasn't been said often and better by others? The scale of the collection is staggering and it is impossible to take everything in in a single visit. I soon found myself trying to move through rooms too quickly, aware of how much more there was to see. After a short while I realized that I was doing the gallery a disservice by rushing and decided to slow down again. Better to see fewer things well than to consume the art of the centuries like fast food. For the remainder of the four hours of my visit I wandered at a comfortable pace.

And I found that not all the sights were on the gallery walls: I also found it fascinating to keep an eye on my fellow visitors who were there in their thousands. You can learn a lot about human nature from the way people act in crowds—some of it touching, some of it puzzling, some of it comical.

I would have to place people's behaviour around the Mona Lisa in the 'puzzling' category. By the time I had followed the signs to the gallery where da Vinci's famous piece hangs behind protective glass, it was obvious that I was going to visit a celebrity. Few works in the museum have their own signposts so that you can find them from several galleries away. I could have waited my turn in the long line to see the painting from a couple of metres away, but it seemed to me that the crowd itself had become the story. I could not believe how many people, having queued up to see the painting, immediately turned their backs on it so that they could take a selfie.

I understand that people want to document their experiences, but many of them spent no time at all contemplating one of the world’s most famous pieces of art. They were oblivious to the object in front of them, which seemed to have little or no significance of its own. Instead the work was there to validate their importance or experience. It didn't point to anything grander, more beautiful, nobler, more challenging or universal than… me.

So, a short series of images of guys and galleries at the museum, starting with Mona and ending with Marianne ... and a tired fellow visitor.