Last weekend I went to see the Conceptual Art exhibition at Tate Britain. I don’t recommend you hot-foot it down there just for that, unless you really like oranges or plain black canvases, but the rest of the gallery is definitely worth a mooch on a Sunday.
The exhibition focuses on the period between the election of Harold Wilson’s Labour government in 1964 and Thatcher’s Conservatives in 79. I should have known from this brief description that I was in over my head, but even if I learnt nothing about art here at least I learnt a tiny bit about the timeline of recent British history!
The intellectual and wordy focus continues throughout. Conceptual art is clearly supposed to be less visual and more cerebral (clue’s in the title there) but some of these works really take the idea too far off the spectrum for me. There’s a lot of plain-ness, a lot of labelling things in a contradictory way, and not a lot of colour.
In the colour stakes the oranges are at least a little light relief! The pile which started out as a perfect pyramid, like a giant display of the ambassador’s Ferrero Rocher, is now depleted. Visitors are invited to take one from the pile and through this interaction the structure and form of the artwork is modified. On the one hand a randomly undulating landscape of oranges is a very nice thing, but on the other it’s a thing one can see at any grocers in any town anywhere.
So has seeing the concept of fruit acquisition in a gallery context changed my world view at all? Not really.
And therefore do I, personally, consider it art? I’m not sure.
…And I’m even less sure if it matters anyway.
However, it is well curated and definitely an education in the least visual of visual arts. To be honest I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it! But I was in and out in fifteen minutes and I didn’t even look in the shop.
The rest of the gallery is a joy though Massively varied in its’ content, an hour or two there feels like a visit to the National Gallery, Tate Modern and a sculpture garden all rolled into one.
These guys take the cake for me:
A herd of hopping, Clanger-whooping, porcelain toilet roll middles; I find them totally mesmerising. The gallery blurb about this piece, Nicholas Pope’s Liar Liar, talks about their being reminiscent of a schoolyard – like a playground group of parka-ed Kennys. They do feel alive and mobile, just freeze-framed, and it’s hard not to hope the pause button will be released and they’ll reveal a bit more of themselves.
If I had more money than sense I’d commission a set of these.
It’s also worth visiting at the moment to see two artist dedicated rooms: Hockey’s double portraits and a BP Spotlight on Anwar Shemza.
David Hockney’s is a collection of three paintings; his famous Mr and Mrs Clarke and Percy, alongside a portrait of his parents and an unfinished painting of Wayne Sleep and George Lawson. I’m not a great admirer of Hockney’s painting style, but I do love his colours and this wide space for three large canvases is very pleasing. Seeing these works collected together is like a study in how to read a portrait. The presence of the other five brings each sitter into a new light and the distinct characters are more distinguishable as a result of the contrast. If I was teaching art to school kids of any age I’d be dragging them over here for a field trip, you could base a whole term’s work on this stuff.
Anwar Shemza was previously a writer and a figurative painter in Pakistan before moving into the more abstract and graphic work which is shown here. This a fairly large space with a wealth of canvases on display, tying together ideas about calligraphy, geometry and abstraction of natural forms. There are sketchbooks and developmental works which back up the geometric thought process and for me these paintings are about planning out an idea and describing a breakdown of form as well as the generation of simple, good graphic design.