Tate Triennal 06/03/06

From: Rob Smith
Category: Art
Date: 09 March 2006


Third Tate Triennal

The last Tate Triennal show Days Like These was criticised in the media for featuring too many of the YBA artists who hit fame in the 1990s, who it was claimed had nothing more to say. For the latest show, guest curator Beatrix Ruf has included artists who are less well known and occasionally younger, however many of the works make references to earlier eras. Interestingly in the exhibitions introduction it mentions that the works focus on “reprocessing and the appropriation of images ….. techniques associated with post modernism” and while this introduction made no direct connection with postmodernism, some of the works made me wonder if it was not part of a postmodernist revival, a return to an era of eclectic influences, ironic pastiches of borrowing and reworking.

Rebecca Warrens energetic female sculptures in unfired clay capture an anarchic feel, the figures have no defined surface, no central structure. They are removed from traditional idealised views of the female form, they are unfinished disordered, difficult to tie down. Warren has a range of influences including comic artist Robert Crumb, and I felt some of the sculptures had a cartoon feel to them – while they weren’t traditionally female, they weren’t about real people either.

Ian Hamilton Finlay is the oldest artist in the exhibition. His classical columns have been lined up against the giant columns of the Duveen gallery. In this context the coulmns look shrunken, as if retaining their shape but changing their usage. Finlay further changes the usage by adding text to the coulmns – the words bark and barque, instead of being an architectural feature it becomes a play on words. I thought the gallery was too busy for the text work to be effective, perhaps in an outdoor setting it might work better. Unfortunately the columns reminded me of the sort of jokey feature you might get in an eighties shopping mall.

Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s installation reminds me of passing time, of afternoons inside my parents living room, time passing very slowly. It made me desire to be able to see what the room looked like over a period of many years, as time and tastes slowly change. Interestingly this work was first shown in 1979, when the artist was present in the installation. I am perhaps therefore viewing the living room from a nostalgic perspective that the artist might not have originally intended.

Eva Rothschilds gravity defying leather sculpture was my favourite thing in the exhibition. I think this was the very opposite of truth to materials, the leather, with a little trickery, made to look as if it had rigidity it did not posses. There is also a contrast between the tree root like shape of the structure, and its apparent construction from leather whips with their more exotic sado masochistic connections. Its appeal to me was in its fine balance, a non concrete property.

Douglas Gordon’s skull in a mirror Proposition for a Posthumous Portrait has references to photos by Man Ray and Robert Mapplethorpe – a fusion of influences. I thought the mirrors creating the multiple reflections were meant to echo different viewpoints taken by the viewer, and also different possible paths a person can take in life.

Jonathan Monk’s Twelve Angry Women highlights the role of artist as curator rather than creator. Monk has created a theme from twelve disparate sketches found in a flea market, rather like a DJ creating a record from samples of old records. Taking ideas and changing them into another idea.

I was puzzled by the inclusion of Cosey Fanni Tutti’s collection of material relating to her involvement in pornography during the 1970s as this seemed like another era rather than contemporary art. As I recall from the time her involvement in pornography was intended as an act of liberation, of escaping from traditional female roles. Id argue in 2006 pornography has become even more commodified, more commercialised and society more desensitised to it, pornography being part of a career path to celebrity, Cosey Fanni Tutti’s project seems less exiting than a more direct stance against pornography might be. Indeed time seemed to have changed the meaning of the seedy letters from pornography publishers, whereas they once might have been an expose of the workings of the industry, they now have a vaguely humorous grubbiness – references to £20 in a room above a pub in Chelsea. Perhaps this is why Ruf has included it in the show – not as an artwork of now, but as an artwork which conveys a sense

John Stezaker’s mask series ingeneously replace the faces of 1950s film stars with postcards of scenic views. Features in the postcards are taken out of context and yet become features on the face, for instance an upturned btridge becomes a mouth, and in one you seem to see through the surface of the subject into the caverns of their soul beneath. Again we see something taken out of context to make something new.

Angela Bulloch’s installation Disenchanted Forest is unashamedly retro, like a 60s psychological experiment gone wrong, the darkened room is filled with bleeps and squeaks that give it a very Dr Who air. The tangle of string which forms the forest made me think of an urban forest where were all under surveillance. I liked this piece a lot, although it wasn’t clear how serious the artist was, if its meant to be humorous Bulloch isnt going to let us see her smiling.

Oliver Payne and Nick Realphs video work plundered popular culture from the last thirty years to take the viewer on a journey at pop video speed.

Christopher Orrs small pictures, the size of panes from comic books, romantisise like traditional paintings, the colour rising from the campfire like a Turner painting. However the people in the paintings seem to be searching for something supernatural rather than finding the sublime in nature. Orr seems to be longing for the romantic tradition but rejecting its subject matter.

While this exhibition is an enjoyable one its much harder going than Days Like These. There arent many laughs to be had - Mark Leckey has managed to take the Comic Strip Drunken Bakers and turn it into a never ending tragedy. Days Like These was full of jokes like Sarah Lucas’s christ made from cigarettes. The references are not always clear either, you have to work to find out what the artists are referring to. Last summer there was an exhibition at the St John St gallery called Young Masters which again was on the theme of borrowing, where the artists had produced some original takes on well known paintings, for instance Chris Dobrolowski’s tank built out of poor quality Haywain tea trays, or Marilene Oliver's ophelia@hotmail.com, an installation based on Millais painting with Orphelia drowning in email. Id like to have scene some of these artists in the Tate show – if the work is to be ironic or tongue in cheek at least let us in on the joke.

I think theres a value to these big shows, if you don’t like one artist theres always another one to check out, and the mixture of mediums is always exiting. Of course there is something artificial about trying to cram disperate artists together in one theme, but as some of the people in the show are as much about artist as curator, theres an element of Ruf being curator as artist, that’s shes creating a theme drawing on an eclectic range of sources, and I think its important to see it in this way rather than as an ubiased survey of the British art scene now. Its probably not a revolutionary show like Sensation, but I wonder if it will set a tone for art in the rest of the decade, with arts past being plundered for new ideas to take things forward.