Initial fear of crowds combined with the summer holidays meant that I have only just made it to the new Tate extension. I wanted to see the Georgia O’Kieffe exhibition before it closed. It was excellent, though for me it failed in its stated objective to dispel the cliches about her work, by which I presumed they meant the entirely understandable tendency to consider her paintings as tending towards the erotic. On coming out, I crossed the upper bridge, relieved the that the balustrade was high enough to counteract the vertigo inducing view of the Turbine Hall, took in an interesting room devoted to Louise Bourgeois and worked my way down the wide staircase.
On the whole I was impressed with the space, though the decision to leave the wood on the stairs unsealed seemed odd; three months in and there are already thousands of stains. As I progressed down, I was pleased to see so many women artists has been included but became increasingly annoyed with whoever decided that visitors could not be trusted and that art-works should be put behind what looked like little electric fences. Fortunately, someone, in Health and Safety perhaps, has ensured you do not actually get a shock if you touch one.
Often these barriers went against the clear intentions of the artist. Take Helio Oiticica whose works Tropicalia and Penetrables were, according to the information on the wall, supposed to mimic the colourful dwellings of Rio de Janerios favelas, complete with sand and Macaws to give the sense of the tropical nature of the city. They were called penetrables because people were encouraged to enter them. Well not at the Tate. Stuck behind a little fence, the sand looked ridiculous; indeed the whole thing looked like a send-up of art with the sign stating that because of visitor numbers the Macaws had been returned to their owners.
It was also impossible to walk among these sculptures by Ana Lupus; you can see the little fence on the left; the lighting did them no favours either, which was a shame as they were interesting but, properly lit, could have been so much better. She had originally started a project in the 1970s to encourage local people in a rural area of Transalvania to create large wheat wreaths and arrange them in their own farmyards. But due to social and economic changes the processes stopped and the wreaths began to decay; so in 2000, she began encasing them in metal – she called them tins = which echoed the original shape and potentially allowed them to last forever. So they were designed to be tough but, according to the curators, not tough enough to be viewed up close.
Go down further into the main gallery to Between Object and Architecture and the pens continued with most of the works corralled in their own little rectangles.
It even went against the Tate’s own expressed intentions. Again, the blurb on the wall explained that “since the 1960s” artist had thought in new ways about objects…..they were brought down from the pedestal which had traditionally separated them from the viewer and placed on the floor…The viewer could now interact more directly with the object as they occupied the same space”
Mercifully the curators had allowed Roni Horn’s completely wonderful cubic glass sculpture, shown here only illuminated by sun-light to be protected only by a line on the floor and a notice that it was fragile.
It was very touch-worthy but nobody was touching it. Indeed, further up, the public was in the main walking round, rather than on, Marwan Rechmaoui’s rubber map of Beirut, Beirut Caoutchouk even though it is designed to be walked on.
It is sad that once you become successful enough to have your works displayed at the Tate, they becomes so valuable that their impact is diminished by wires and ropes. Living artists should protest. Alternatively, now that visitor levels have fallen back from the initial peaks, the Tate curators could decide to be a little braver.