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A visit to Tate Modern

Frieze Art Week, October 2015

Tate Modern, View from the West

I once heard this comparison of dogs and cats: that a dog makes you love him. A dog tries to be cute, happy, runs to you, does all these tricks to make you love him whereas a cat does none of these things, is aloof and distant and that you would have to go love him. I don’t really know if this is true, I haven’t had a cat yet, but asked of my thoughts towards the design of the Tate Modern as a museum I am always reminded of this comparison of cats and dogs because it is for me like a cat: I love it, but I really work at it.

First of all it is always difficult to go to. I either have to cross the Millennial Bridge to get there, or take the Tube and then walk awhile. And for those without a phone with GPS there is still no signage. I have met more than a few who don’t like the re-purposed power station that was turned into a museum by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, and the giant Turbine Hall is found intimidating by many. I on the other hand actually do like the building and the Turbine Hall, probably thanks to Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds commission in 2010.. I find the galleries easily navigable, the permanent exhibitions are free to enter and see while only special exhibitions are subject to an entrance fee.

But let me tell you what comes to my mind first when I think of Tate Modern: It’s the dirtiest museum I have ever visited, and I go to so many. The walls are dirty, there are hand marks on walls, floors are dirty, this last exhibition I went to The World Goes Pop an exhibition that opened only recently, had dust bunnies at corners.

The Eyal Ofer Galleries, Level 3

The World Goes Pop

The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop

The exhibition did not allow photographs to be taken, which I don’t like, and don’t understand at this day and age. But I found this out after a guard came up to me and said I can’t take pictures after I already had taken four of them having not noticed any signs.

Jerzy Ryszard ‘Jurry’ Zieliński. Without Rebellion, 1970.

Ruth Francken. Man Chair, 1971

It was a good exhibition of pop art “mass-produced imagery borrowed from popular culture” and a mix of it with political issues such as “social imbalances, censorship, the role of women, sexual liberation, tradition, war and civil rights” and how pop art was used by non-English and non-American artists in the 1960s and 1970s, to express frustrations of political situations in countries like Spain, Romania, Slovakia and Colombia. I liked the exhibition because it showcased that pop art and politics can be combined, and I think because of its appeal to Millennials, felt that they could learn about a certain history in time through pop art, and that they too could be inspired to create art to address cultural and political frustrations they have. In terms of the mission of Tate Modern, it justifies the education mission and has excellent programs running at the same time too.

For more information please read the curatorial essay Political Pop: An Introduction, by Jessica Morgan, here.

The World Goes Pop is divided into different galleries thematically. Didactic wall text is informative, educational. It was not dumbed down but it did not have a complicated language either. Yet I felt it was a little too spoon-fed. It would have been nicer to have made the audience draw inferences instead of saying what it is you’re doing here. But all in all, I’d say this was a nice exhibition, with each section of the exhibition separated by wall color, and introducing audiences to what social injustices we believe there are now, did indeed exist then, and some artists addressed them through pop art, and that pop art did exist outside the US too.

Turbine Hall

Abraham Cruzvillegas’ Empty Lot

Empty Lot

As for the Hyundai Commission of the Turbine Hall by Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas, who used soils from around 36 sites around the London area, for his installation, I would have to confess that it didn’t do it for me at first. While I have to admit it must be difficult to follow previous Turbine Hall commissions by artists such as Juan Munoz, Oliafur Eliasson, Ai Weiwei, Carsten Höller, Bruce Nauman and Anish Kapoor, still I didn’t even bother to go from the bridge to see it up close, because the view from the bridge is the best and there wasn’t much else to see from down there anyway.

The installation is a “large geometric sculpture created using scaffolding, a grid of triangular wooden planters, and soil collected from parks across London including Peckham, Haringey and Westminster”, and is intended to provoke “questions about the city and nature, as well as wider ideas of chance, change, and hope.”

As I looked at the planters forming the sculpture, even though they were triangular shaped they looked like cheap coffins to me, the kind they use in the Middle East. Then I think perhaps this is the intention: London is a mix of all different cultures and races, hence the 36 different soils with all different colors as separation. And none of the planters are even touching one another, furthering the concept of separation. And they are all on a raised floor, not touching the ground, elevated. A visitor next to me commented on the floodlights –which I thought was necessary along with water to see if anything would grow, but perhaps can remind one of a concentration camp or prison as that visitor felt. Is this to remind us that we’ll all die? Will something grow after? And if something will grow, with time, will the exhibition look not empty anymore and be beautiful? I guess it would depend on what would grow. Would anything grow at all unless you sow some seeds? Is this it then? What you sow is what you get?

So, perhaps, while aesthetically not exactly pleasing to the eye, Empty Lot forces one to think, to find meaning, and also be curious as to what will happen, if anything, by the time the exhibition ends. So, you have work a little, contemplate, in order to like it.

I say, that is very Tate Modern.

Tate Modern Expansion Construction

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