A Little Off Base: London’s Tate museum holds art both timeless and questionable
Stars and Stripes August 30, 2006
LONDON — Somewhere between Jannis Kounellis’s untitled work of two stuffed black birds shot by arrows set against a bleak charcoal-drawn urban setting and Julian Opie’s everyday industrial appliance turned abstract art titled “H”, one can’t help but wonder if there are any qualifications to modern art.
An afternoon strolling the sprawling levels of the city’s foremost modern art museum, the Tate Modern, prompts many questions along that line.
Is an eight-foot canvas covered in slate gray paint art? Can it be considered beautiful? And by whom?
Was Andy Warhol on to something? Or just on something? And could the same artistic commercial exaggeration be achieved with a transparency, an overhead machine and a rainy weekend?
Tate Modern is home, truth be told, to timeless works by artists whose reputations are beyond reproach. Their characterization as modern art is more a function of the date of production rather than any attachment to a form or style adhered to by their contemporaries.
Spain’s foremost artists of the last 100 years, whose skills merit one-name recognition, Dali and Picasso, and America’s premier practitioner of abstract expressionism, Jackson Pollock, are the most notable examples of artists whose works appear at Tate Modern and will be admired far after their “modern” title has been exhausted by the passage of time.
But is their work at Tate Modern diminished by hanging in the same hall as absurdly simple canvasses with only geometrically sound lines forming boxes filled in with primary colors. Or by two televisions, one set upside down atop the other, repeating a mind numbingly annoying loop of a man dressed in a court jester’s outfit jumping up and down screaming “NO”?
Or maybe that’s the point.
By displaying objects that clearly question the definition and threshold of art, the museum’s curator has kicked open the door of expression to allow all types of artists the ability to convey their message, however outlandish, in nearly any medium imaginable.
Existential questions aside, the museum is a treat for a number of other reasons.
The building, set along the south shore of the River Thames not far from central London’s teeming tourist district, is nearly a piece of art in itself.
It’s the refurbished Bankside Power Station, which was designed by renowned architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed the famed red British telephone booth. Tate Modern took up residence in the building, which sits directly across the river from the classically stunning St. Paul’s Cathedral, in the late 1980s.
It may be a bit of a stroll from the famed London Eye or Buckingham Palace. But perched alongside the rebuilt Globe Theatre, home to year-round Shakespeare productions, the Tate is well situated as a stopover sure to please the weekend art aficionado.
And best of all, a visit to the museum, save the wings that showcase visiting exhibitions, is free, although a donation is appreciated.