Sunday, 7 April 2013

Okay, where did I leave my concrete flower? An appreciation of modern art.

On my travels, I seem to go to a number of very interesting art exhibitions.  Sometimes, I am overwhelmed and inspired to do something creative, which is rarely realised immediately but lies like a seed, waiting for the requisite succulence to grow.

Anyway, since the beginning of the year, I have finally and belatedly realised that I have a predilection for modern art in its myriad forms.  I do not mind seeing other art styles but somehow, I have always considered artists who attempt to capture 'reality in its true form' to be rather missing the point.  A flower in a vase on a table can be painted in a variety of styles but essentially, the artist's feelings and interests must imbue and/or taint the representation of the object(s).

The three most recent modern art exhibitions I have attended, the A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance exhibition at the Tate Modern, the Schwitters In Britain exhibition at the Tate Britain and the Bernadette Corporation: 2000 Wasted Years at the ICA are all manifestations of different forms of modern art.  Out of the three exhibitions, the Schwitters in Britain exhibition is perhaps, the most 'conventional'.  Kurt Schwitters' work takes the form of collages of found objects, sculptures, installations and recordings of staged performances of his poetry, which is essentially phonetic.  Repeated words and sounds captured for eternity on scratchy recording devices.  Vinyl mementos transferred to digital technology, so they can be shared forever.  In many respects, Schwitters' work embodies the life of an exile, a man who chose to leave Germany in 1937 after his work was condemned by the Nazi Government, it resonates with a sense of nostalgia and occasionally sadness.  Railway tickets and bits of adverts and wood punctuate many of his collages.  They trace his life and travels.  He created a word to describe his work, 'Merz'. 

As Schwitters described in 1919:

'The word Merz denotes essentially the combination of all conceivable materials
for artistic purposes, and technically the principle of equal evaluation of the
individual materials... A perambulator wheel, wire-netting, string and cotton wool
are factors having equal rights with paint.'

(Kurt Schwitters 1919 - Reprinted in Tate Britain Exhibition Booklet)

One of his works which he sadly never finished was a Merz Barn in the Lake District, which now consists of just a single wall, which is at the Hatton Gallery.  There is a time line at the exhibition explaining the oddly involved world of art acquisition with its deals and messy incomplete transactions.  The exhibition has stills of the wall as it was created.  It truly is an intriguing combination of elements.  Curves and lines, strange profusions.  Please see the following link for an image of the wall and more information.

The exhibition was surprisingly moving and collage as an art form is very versatile and engaging.  It also has a tactile quality.  Of course, touching the works is not encouraged, but the possibility of creating works for people to touch appeals to me.

The A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance exhibition at the Tate Britain which I attended on the same day as the above exhibition demonstrated the more visceral and confrontational nature of modern art.  The exhibition was about artists who are interested in the processes of creation as opposed to focusing too intently on the finished product.  As such, a film in the first room is projected above a piece by Jackson Pollock revealing how he created works.  Essentially, splashing paint onto a canvas.  Lines and drips cascading across a blank canvas.  Squiggles of differing colours representing the artist's aesthetic dance.  The finished work like a captured memory of a dance with a creative muse.  The other works in the exhibition ranged from the oddly beautiful, one work involved different people shooting sacks of paint which were suspended over a canvas and then punctured by gun shots causing the paint to splatter the canvas (Niki de Saint Phalle) to truly bizarre works involving ritual, performance and bodily fluids such as blood (the Vienna Actionists).  Many of the works are films, which are documents of a form of creativity that grabs you by the throat.  I left the exhibition feeling exhilarated and changed.  It made me want to get a group of people together and do something in that moment.  This leads to an interesting question does modern art age that well?  It's a rhetorical question but worth thinking about as certain inter textual references become oblique or forgotten.  Having said that, other forms of art can also be seen as ageing and are kept in the public eye by academics and curators putting on exhibitions to remind or impose their meanings upon the works of art.

The last art exhibition I am going to talk about in this blog entry is the Bernadette Corporation: 2000 Wasted Years at the ICA.  The Bernadette Corporation seem to be an organisation that creates works through the exploitation of various mediums.  They are ironic, postmodern in their references, political and above all, hard to define.  Their BC logo rendering them as meaningful as any other corporation.  They have put on fashion shows in deserted warehouses, created narratives by multiple authors.  Most amusingly to me, they have created 'versions' of popular books such as 'Moby Dick', which are simply academic break downs of the narratives, subjective reactions to the texts.  A comment on a generation more intent on reading study guides than the original texts?  I loved the exhibition for the sheer craziness of the material on offer.  How do you describe a constantly changing organisation that is inspired by everything?  The ICA has done as good a job as you can and it's fascinating to me the number of negative reviews that the exhibition has received.  I think that the reviewers are missing the point and it could be that living artists are harder to represent than dead ones.  Careers are harder to categorise and represent when the creative team remains fluid. 

To close, I recommend all three of the exhibitions (although, sadly, the A Bigger Splash exhibition has finished, although I guess it may move somewhere else).  Each of these exhibitions has illustrated to me the importance of modern art.  I like to be challenged and stimulated.  Modern art is the stimuli for the occasional mundanity and heroic stoicism of everyday life.

Barry Watt - Sunday 7th April 2013.


The Schwitters quote was extracted from the Schwitters In Britain exhibition guide (Tate Britain, 2013)

For more information on the Bernadette Corporation, please see their website:

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