“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Smell Remains the Same

At the Tate Britain, from the 70s, when I first started to dig it.

But that's about it.

In this and the next couple of posts, some thoughts about the major, entirely wrong restructuring--or destructuring, or actually, destruction.

The net effect: cynical reason plus presentism plus big Britart money minus meaningful British patronage of the arts in the 50s and 60s and 70s = good old British philistinism 2.0. Throw millions of pounds at some new stuff because it's less guilt inducing and more obvious, like the elephant with the machine gun and the flags: geddit?

The aesthetic of much of the contemporary art and its curation is precisely the identical cynical reason that uses Earth as an exploitable resource.

And of course, as we all know (as they knew in 1807, or 1660), the present is the best: finally we are out of that awful history tunnel!

Then outsource the "history" to BP and have it compressed into the smallest possible space. Use decades rather than periods because it provides a way to justify the contemporary stuff ("1960," "1970," "1980" -- but only "1540" then "1620" then "1750"--just making these dates up but you get the picture--and of course the curators also just made them up).

Net effect: the core of the Tate, the Romantic period and Victorian period art, disappears (in the former case) or is crammed into a single room (the latter). Exhibit the latter pictures Academy style, cramming them on top of one another. How marvelously of the period darling. But how convenient: we can stuff all the Whistlers and Pre-Raphaelites together to provide lots of space around the elephant and gun.

The Romantic period is disappeared entirely. Blake has been put in a ghetto up a small flight of stairs in the corner of the Turner rooms: I had to ask. When I was a kid he was front and center. In a hushed, beautiful dark space with glass cabinets. Now he's in a deep ultramarine room, the pictures crammed again one on top of the other, a huge slice of wall devoted to "look how nice to Blake we've been over the years."

This was a poor guy who made next to nothing doing illustrations while alive. Not being bought by the Tate (if it had existed).

The Romantic period and the march of the isms that followed has to do with the discovery that Joe Public has (infinite) inner space.

By contrast, there are about three quite meaningless, contextless, eighteenth-century art rooms. It figures: that was also an age of commerce uber alles.

Bridget Riley and David Hockney have been crushed into two contextless hangings in intersitial spaces.

Francis Bacon. Where are you sir?

The net effect: it is as Adorno said. Interiority and freedom have had their day and no longer juice the bourgeoisie. And Adorno said it back in the 40s.

British philistinism is now where American philistinism was in 19 fucking 45. Congratulations kids! Welcome to the mid twentieth century!


Nick Guetti said...

I'm sorry Tim. I recently went back to my home town (one of my home towns) of Amherst, MA, and found that all the beautiful old ruined railroad tracks and ecologically diverse cow pastures (not just empty fields, by any means) have been replaced by mall-like jogging paths and overgrown, ecologically homogeneous "conservation areas" that no one is taking any care of. I think it's the result of the same thing that you describe happening to the Tate.

Alan said...

Hi Tim, i read your post with equal concern. There's a powerful comment on what's happened to museums in Kristeva's The Severed Head. It's actually the introduction, written by Regis Michel (head of graphic art at the Louvre): '... museums have condemned themselves to authoritarian sermonizing on repetitive values'. The artists on display are turned into 'human sandwiches'. In short, as foreseen by Adorno and Hprkheimer, the culture industry has taken over in full force. Alan Weinberg 13 August 2013 at 11.44