Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Tête Moderne (part one)

One of the tourist attractions I pass near every day is the Tate Modern, a large collection of some of the best modern art to be found anywhere in the world. There are works from as many well-known modern artists as you can think of, such as Picasso or Warhol or Hockney or Emin or a myriad of others, alongside more obscure presentations from people who have a degree of celebrity only to those with a deeper knowledge of the subject than I possess.

The building, right there at the southern end of "The Wobbly Bridge", is in itself fascinating. The museum holds its collection in an impossibly enormous brick building which was once home to Bankside Power Station. It has a vast and overwhelming indoor space called the Turbine Hall; a cavernous echoing chamber filled in modern times with the murmur of tourism punctuated with the occasional squeal of an excited child. It once held huge throbbing generators used to power nearby industry, shipping and manufacturing now vanished from the South Bank. Just next door is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre which Shakespeare once performed in, and a quarter of a mile further on are the actual foundations of another Elizabethan theatre, The Rose. Walk past Wagamama and Starbucks, and you'll pass Winchester Palace and the Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind (another reconstruction, but beautifully done) then, via Borough Market (itself dating back ot the thirteenth century), you reach another edifice with one thousand years of history; Southwark Cathedral, currently juxtaposed with the as-yet-incomplete Network Rail works. Like many ancient and modern European cities, you can experience a millennium of history in just five minutes.

The Tate Modern is itself something of a paradox. No one would construct a monster like this almost entirely from brick in the 21st century. Over fifty years old, it now defies its own name and reminds us of our more recent history.

Today, the team and I have decided to grab our cameras and actually pop inside and have one of our occasional looks round. My prosaic colleague describes this as an "art or fart" session, but he is at least willing to give it a try. I guess modern art isn't for everyone, and, realistically, it's not always easy for someone who pops in just from time to time to read the mind of an artist who had apparently settled for simply organising some rocks in a certain way.

But there are some breathtaking works in there too. I am a Lichtenstein fan, and seeing his art up close and personally will lift my day. My friend applies an unsubtle test with which I disagree. He wonders if the the term "art" should reasonably be applied to something which didn't require any technical skill to create. In my view it's about the idea and the execution; if something is wonderful for some reason then why does the technical skill involved matter? This could apply to art, or music, or literature, or even a process or a machine. One can admire the thought processes involved in their own right.

The consequences of this disagreement make for an entertaining hour of lively debate. And just thinking about it in a brief lunch hour means that the artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have got inside our modern twenty first century heads and done their jobs.

So four old gits, each armed with our mid-life-crisis gadgety Digital SLRs, set off to take some snaps. How did we get on? I'll tell you in Tête Moderne part 2, later this week. Exciting huh?


But what do you think? You can now comment anonymously, so please do -- obviously, if you want to leave your name etc, that'd be great.