Monday, 31 May 2010

Tate Modern at Ten: new Art21 post

Fischli and Weiss: 'Mick Jagger and Brian Jones going home satisfied after composing ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’'

There’s a display outside one of the shops in Tate Modern, showing visitors’ comments written on little cards. That visitors’ comments are encouraged at all, let alone actually displayed in the museum, is testament enough to the transformative effect that this institution, now in its tenth year, has had on the British cultural landscape. One comment, though, in bubbly, fourteen-year-old girl writing, catches the eye above the others. It reads (with spelling errors intact): “This museum rocks! It’s soooo AWSOME!” So far, so fourteen-year-old girl. But the next bit made me laugh, then think a bit: “I hope all the artists are going to be famous one day!!!”

You almost don’t want to disavow this young visitor’s enthusiasm: clearly the works she saw (Picassos, Bacons, Richters and Rothkos) had such an immediate impact on her that they obviously were by young, upcoming, anxious artists, rather than the hoary behemoths us jaded types have stopped really looking at. My first really transformative art experiences were at the Tate, too, though in its original incarnation across the river (what’s now Tate Britain), where I saw, as a teenager, works by Bacon, Miro, and Pollock that absolutely defined what I wanted from art: a kind of visual equivalent for the outsiderish obstinacy I sought and found in music. That’s not the case now – I subsequently found an interest in milder, older art, and milder, older music – but it’s worth, I think, remembering the immediacy of that initial lapel-grabbing, electrical charge when you can. Modern art – let’s face it – will always be cool in a way that contemporary art isn’t. At Tate Modern, it’s the modern displays – the salon-hung Surrealism room, the Bacon and Picasso face-offs – that remain permanently abuzz, while the huge Beuys installation, or Arte Povera room, are as forbiddingly depeopled as towns in Western movies with a creaky saloon sign and skittering tumbleweed. Maybe the museum’s disingenuous name says more than it realizes.

Read the rest of the post here.

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