Tate Modern Level 4
5 June – 7 September 2003
From Walker Evans and August Sander to Andreas Gursky and Diane Arbus, many of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century have worked in the documentary manner. Cruel and Tender is the first major photography exhibition at Tate Modern and the first to explore this realist vein in depth. Many iconic images of the twentieth century come from this tradition and are included among the portraits, interiors, landscapes and cityscapes on display in the exhibition.
Cruel and Tender includes the work of Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Paul Graham, Andreas Gursky, Boris Mikhailov, Nicholas Nixon, Martin Parr, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Thomas Ruff, August Sander, Michael Schmidt, Fazal Sheikh, Stephen Shore, Thomas Struth, and Garry Winogrand.
Described by some as straight photography, this work is characterised by a sense of disengagement; it is analytical and descriptive in its approach to society and the landscape. At the same time, this kind of photography also demonstrates a concern for subject matter. Lincoln Kirstein, in 1933, identified this paradox of seeming opposites when he described Walker Evans’s work as ‘tender cruelty’. This oscillation between engagement and estrangement features in each work on display, from August Sander’s remarkable study of the German people in the early part of the century, to Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s recent photographs of revealing city street scenes. Garry Winogrand observed: There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described. For the photographers in Cruel and Tender this means looking at the real world around us and avoiding idealised or fantastical imagery.
Cruel and Tender includes many familiar images which have shaped the way we look at the world. Walker Evans’s American Photographs launched a host of images which conflated the mythic and the mundane in American life: the automobile graveyard, the small town grocery store, torn movie posters and clapboard houses. Influenced by Evans, Stephen Shore gives us delicious candy-coloured depictions of quintessential American highways, cinemas and diners. These works are offset by William Eggleston’s angst-ridden and existential images of affluent suburbia and its inhabitants. These celebrated images are displayed wherever possible within the context of their original bodies of work, enabling a greater understanding of the working practices of individual photographers.
The exhibition also highlights works which reveal the continuing relevance and fascination of portraiture within contemporary photographic practice. These range from Thomas Ruff’s photographs documenting his own personal surroundings in 1980s Düsseldorf, to Thomas Struth’s sensitive family portraits expressive of complex relationships and personalities, to Rineke Dijkstra’s photographs of people just after dramatic events: male bullfighters and recent mothers - both subjects bloodied by experience.
Cruel and Tender is an exhibition that takes a paradoxical look at the industrial and urban landscape, past and present: from Robert Adams’s critical study of Denver’s urban sprawl, turned into one vast shopping mall, to Bernd and Hilla Becher’s archaeological interest in industrial architecture, in which they create an exhaustive archive of soon-to-be-forgotten and destroyed technologies, to Andreas Gursky’s impressive depictions of dwarfing supermarket or stock exchange interiors.
Cruel and Tender begins and ends with living practitioners, and encourages interconnections between the historical and the contemporary. The sequence of rooms is configured in sympathetic clusters based on shared methodologies, histories or subject-matter. There is a suggested route through the exhibition, but diversions and short cuts are also possible, creating intentional interconnections across time and geography.
Although photography has been included in a number of previous exhibitions at Tate, and regularly features in Collection displays this is the first major exhibition at Tate dedicated purely to the medium. As such, it signals Tate’s acknowledgement that photography is a key component of contemporary visual culture and will continue to feature in Tate’s exhibition programmes.
This major exhibition is a collaboration between Tate Modern and Museum Ludwig, Cologne. The exhibition is curated by Emma Dexter, Senior Curator, Tate Modern and Thomas Weski, Chief Curator, Museum Ludwig. The exhibition will be on view at Museum Ludwig from 29 November 2003 – 18 February 2004.
The illustrated catalogue containing essays by both selectors, and biographies of all the photographers exhibited, will be published in June 2003 (£29.99, 288pp).
The exhibition is sponsored by UBS, one of the world’s leading financial firms. This sponsorship continues UBS’s support of contemporary exhibitions at Tate and follows their sponsorship of Warhol and Lucian Freud in 2002. UBS is a pre-eminent global integrated investment services provider and the leading corporate and retail bank in Switzerland. UBS is the world’s leading provider of private banking services and one of the largest asset managers globally. In investment banking and securities they are among the select bracket of major global houses.