It’s been a while, huh? Miss me? I am back in the UK, sitting in my hotel room at 1pm because I just woke up and am seemingly not adjusting well to the time difference. All my travel lately has really screwed up my blogging pace, though trust me, I am not complaining. (In fact, I am just now realizing it’s Sunday and this is supposed to be a Weekend Show and Tell, but whatever.)
When I land at Heathrow, it’s usually noon or early afternoon. My routine is to try to stay awake until 9 or 10pm to get my body adjusted to the time zone as quickly as possible. (See how well that’s working for me?) And how do I do that? I dump my bag in my hotel room, change clothes, hit the streets and walk. And walk and walk and walk and walk. Being here is always a big exhale for me. No matter where I am staying, some part of my walk covers St. James Park, which yesterday was stupid with half-dressed Londoners in the unseasonable 70 degree weather exposing flesh that has been hidden for months. Heaven.
Then I passed Buckingham Palace and went toward the Thames via Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. I hit the riverside and kept going with the intent of walking down to the Tower and back. However, I was about to pass the Millenium Bridge when I saw the Tate Modern Art Museum on the other bank of the river. So I climbed the stairs and headed across at a pace dictated by the Noisettes on my headphones. People, sunshine, music and the scent of caramel roasted nuts sold in little cups. And like many of the museums here, the Tate is free. Most of it. You have to pay to see special exhibits, but I just wanted to kick around. And I am so glad I did because I can really geek out over this stuff. (For more of my art musings, see here and here.)
The museum focuses on art from 1900-present day, which I love because it’s less representational and more conceptual. (Enough words have been used in this blog to describe my ridiculously conceptual nature, so let’s just say I loved it.) I saw a monstrous huge Lichtenstein that blew me away. Those teeny tiny dots all in perfect rows. I caught myself wondering if they had paint pens back then because that’s the only way I could ever do that. I saw some Picasso cubist paintings, Modigliani portraits, those damn water lilies by Monet (that are everywhere…anyone else sick of them?), a Hockney here and there.
But the stuff that blew me away was from artists I had never heard of. For me, what I love about modern art is the wit. I know that people stand in front of these things a lot of the time wondering ‘What the hell it is all about? I could do that.’ We are so used to looking at art from a decorative or narrative perspective. (Or evaluating it based on whether or not it matches the sofa.) For me, I love it when it presents an idea, preferably in a funny ‘gotcha’ kind of way.
For example, I saw this amazing piece by Michelangelo Pistoletto called ‘Venus of the Rags’ (1967,1974). I love this Renaissance-esque marble female nude, her back facing you and her arms reaching into a huge pile of unfolded clothes as tall as she was. Ha. I know that feeling, don’t you? And what a wonderful expression of a human experience that has so many layers.
Another favorite of mine was called ‘Shooting Picture’ by Niki de Saint Phalle done in 1961. From the website:
The emphasis on the violent gesture in post-war abstract painting culminated in Saint Phalle’s Shooting Pictures. She filled polythene bags with paint and enclosed them within layers of plaster against a blockboard backing. Spectators were invited to shoot at these constructions, releasing the paint. This one was shot by artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. The moment of action and an emphasis on chance were as important as the finished work. Saint Phalle stopped making these works in 1963, explaining ‘I had become addicted to shooting, like one becomes addicted to a drug’.
I could do this all day, but will restrain myself to one more. (After all, I am getting a late start on the day and the Orla Kiely store is waiting for me.) Set in a very serious series of cubist paintings by Picasso and was this piece by Fernand Leger, called ‘Still Life with Beer Mug’ (1921-2). (That one’s for you, babe. Democratic art and beer for all.)
After his experiences in the First World War, Léger became convinced that art should be accessible to all. He moved away from pure abstraction towards the stylised depiction of real objects, laying great emphasis on order, clarity and harmony. In the 1920s he developed a concern with geometric composition and decoration. This painting shows a relatively naturalistic still life of a workman’s lunch on a table. The primary colours of the mug and tablecloth contrast with the dazzling black and white patterns in the background. (Tate Modern website)
Thanks for letting me share my inner nerd with you guys and this magnificent afternoon of mine. If you want to see more, you can do a room by room tour at the Tate Modern site here. I only got through the 5th floor but will definitely find time to go back and see the rest of the collection soon. Enjoy!