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.

Lights, camera... more lights!

Like many other users of the Fujifilm X-series cameras, I've been salivating over the recently-released X-Pro 2. Saliva or no, it's just not the right time for me to be looking at a new camera, however. That means I'll be contenting myself with my X100T and my X-E1 and lenses. Three or four years is not a long time in human terms but, given the current pace of innovation in digital photography, it's a significant chunk of the lifespan of sensor technology. All the same, the discontinued X-E1 is still a very capable  camera. 

As if to prove that point to myself, I used the X-E1 during a night-time tour of The Neon Museum in Las Vegas. The museum, commonly known as the "Neon Boneyard," was opened in 2012 as an outdoor collection of illuminated signs from the Vegas Strip of the 50s and 60s. I was hoping to visit during the photographic magic hour but all tours were booked up for that time of day while I would be visiting Las Vegas. Unguided tours are not available, so I would be doing the tour in full darkness—I'd need to crank up the ISO on the camera, even with the illumination of the signs themselves.

I'd like to have spent more time in the Boneyard and a little more light would have been nice, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Our guide kept things moving at a clip and clearly knows (and loves!) his Nevada history. My only real regret was the rookie mistake of not checking the histogram more often and exposing to the right: the camera sensor and I were both fooled by the brilliance of some of the signs against the dark sky, so my exposures were routinely underexposed by 1-1/2 stops. Thank goodness for Capture One Pro 9's ability to pull the best out of the raw files.

Still, I'm happy with the images I got. If you plan to be in Las Vegas and you're a photographer or have any interest at all in local history, show business, American culture, typography or the visual arts more broadly, go visit The Neon Museum. Just make sure to book a place on the tour well in advance!

Sahara gang
Stardust
Motel
Liberace
Las Vegas Club
Tropicana Mobil Park