Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turner's New Clothes

Image from
I went to the Tate Britain yesterday, my favourite of all the London galleries. At one time it was simply the Tate, but that was before millennium grants and the turbine halls (and empty walls) across the water took away its status as the 'Modern' gallery. The theory was that the old building would have more space to display the best of British - and largely I think that worked.

I couldn't remember when I'd last visited; perhaps four years - but most of my friends were still there: paintings by Patrick Heron and Peter Lanyon, Stanley Spencer and Thomas Gainsborough. And of course, the great man himself, Joseph Mallord William Turner.

The delight of Tate Britain is that much of what it displays is more modern and exciting than half the tosh at its South Bank sister. OK, so that's a prejudice of mine - but go look at the Turner galleries and tell me his paintings aren't as importantt and inspiring now as they were 170 years ago. Or, if you like contemporary, stop in the Duveen corridor to stand under the disturbingly beautiful and scary plane sculptures of Fiona Banner, commissioned by the Tate this year: fantastic.

How ironic then, that precious space should be given over to this year's Turner prize.

I reckon I'm more open to new ideas than most, especially when it comes to art. Even the nagging feeling of 'sure I could've thought of that' doesn't put me off - it's almost part of the pleasure. Its very rare that I simply don't see any value at all.

So it's significant that a day after viewing I now have to look up the names of this year's shortlist... (pause while I go to Google)

Frankly, I can't be bothered to cut and paste them - what you need to know is that there was an inept painter who thought the titles of his pictures more important than the image; a video installation with supposedly provocative quotes (you'd have to be very dull); a set of destroyed canvasses and two stacked chairs (to be fair I liked the pink canvass - for all of a minute), and a room with three speakers playing a woman singing some sort of Scottish dirge. There were lots of words on plaques to explain it all.

A summary dismissal perhaps, but in my view if you have to read all the blurb to appreciate the art, it has missed its purpose. Surely there is better new British art than this - and I'm not suggesting it has to be watercolours or traditional sculpture. Yesterday I felt like the little boy in the Emperor's New Clothes.

What was it he cried to the crowd?

Something like, 'Where are the fancy robes - all I can see is bollocks!'


  1. I just have a feeling that the jury for the Turner Prize have their eye more on the backers of the artists involved than on the art.

  2. We're becoming lost in a world where the interpreatation is more important than the art itself and all justifying. Give me a good book anyday... and I work in an art gallery!

  3. I agree with Steve's comment about interpretation. With much modern art, I feel as though I'm not even allowed to look at it and pass judgement unless I've read the lengthy explanation of how the art came to be and what it is doing. It's certainly rare that I feel I can fathom that for myself. And if there's practically nothing left when you take away the blurb, it's not just unsatisfactory but unfair, somehow.

  4. Steve works in an art gallery? Who knew?
    Sorry, got sidetracked there. What I know about art you could write on the back of a postage stamp, Philistine that I am. I am sorry that I don't have an intelligent comment to leave on the subject. I'll just shamble off and watch a reality show or something 'meaningful'. ;-)

  5. Love it "If you have to read all the blurb to appreciate the art, it has missed its purpose"

    Works for music too.

  6. I remember the first time I visited the TATE in the 70's. We had been at sea and came back to England. I was in my twenties. I walked into a Turner was huge..I mean..I stood there in absolute awe looking at it..and was on his sea, under his cloud..I was quite lost. The great man indeed. That moment, forty years later..not forgotten. Art moves the soul.

    Forced to understand Modern Art..a great love of a family member. "I get it". I took time, but I do get it.

    Remember saying to someone many years ago..Picasso...yuk... His reply.."if you don't love Picasso you don't understand Picasso".

    Come to find..he was right.

    Ramblings from a frustrated artsy kinda gal))