Wandering the Tate

On a January afternoon not quite as cold as the weather augurs predicted, I stepped outside my house and ended up at Tate Modern. There wasn’t a huge amount of conscious thought behind this process; just a desperation to get out culminating in my feet taking me somewhere I hadn’t been to recently. Because, at the time of writing, going to places I have recently been to is despairing, and I have been to a lot of places.

The gallery wasn’t very busy. There were a couple of tours and lots of people of various ages wearing berets. This raised a half smile. It’s good to see the beret / art appreciation association surge deep into the first fifth of the 21st century.

I tried not to look at too much art, as taking in loads of art at once can lead to an art overload, whereby you collapse to the floor, holding your head, having been subjected to too much art in too short a space of time. This is of course different to an art attack, which is when a Dadaist jumps from behind a pillar and shouts something nonsensical at you, and you immediately die.

Above is a model of a tower block in Beirut, which has journeyed from a symbol of progress and banal / reassuring family living (delete according to mood) to burnt-out sniper’s nest to striking symbol of the lingering impacts of conflict. This was contrasted with a photography series of a London postwar housing block being demolished back in the early nineties, because we Brits don’t need the excuse of a war to destroy our social fabric.

Already pretty overwhelmed by ART, I looked at some portraits of noughties Moscow subway workers and eighties East German factory workers. These were in a room about WORKERS. I think there was a kernel of an implied point about the dignity and heroism of normal jobs, the jobs we artists must document but would never possibly do, darling, but it was possible this sentence qualifies as my being cynical. Some of the portraits were good.

I escalated up an escalator and then got lucky and found a free exhibition on magic realism, which brilliantly presented Germany’s national psychodrama between the wars. So: lots of lurid Weimar antics, with suicide, fever dreams, impending doom and repressed sexuality never far from the surface. Dreams and nightmares on canvas, portentous but never pretentious. Well, maybe slightly pretentious. And then a drawing by Lea Grundig, a German Jewish woman, completed in 1943 after she had fled the country for Palestine. You don’t have to be a sophisticated beret-wearer to appreciate the horrors contained within.

After this, I tried to leave the gallery but saw a wire model of the international space station in the next room, so naturally I was drawn to that. And then, I did finally leave, keeping close to the shadows, avoiding any Dadaists lurking amid the phone-clutching groups of disappointed-looking tourists.

Published by jamesofwalsh

My past blogs haunt the internet like ghost ships on a digital sea.

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