Tate Modern  Turbine Hall

Drawing on the Tate Collection, this display brings together sculptures of the human figure from the last one hundred years. Ranging from Thomas Brock’s Eve of 1900 to Antony Gormley’s 1985 cast of his own body, Unititled (for Francis), the display showcases more than twenty life-size sculptures. The Upright Figure is the first in a series of displays, sponsored by BT, in which works from Tate’s own collection occupy the dramatic space of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern.

The upright figure is one of the most ancient ways in which artists have embodied social, political and cultural concerns, in images ranging from fertility goddesses to authoritarian rulers. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the body has remained an abiding theme for artists, as it mirrors shifting perceptions and ideas of what we are. The selection concentrates on life-size figures, with examples of classic realism set alongside works that move towards abstraction.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the male and female nude alike played a role as public statuary avoiding censure by classical references to gods and heroes, which cloaked these bronzes and marbles in the acceptable guises of ancient Greece and the Italian Renaissance. In the work of some artists this classicing tradition has persisted, so that Portrait of a Young Man Standing 1963-83 by Leonard McComb displays an unadorned idealism also found in Aristide Maillol’s Venus with a Necklace 1918-28.

The formal changes associated with modernism had their impact on the treatment of the body as a sculptural subject. Some, such as William Turnbull in his 1956 Idol, turned to a reduction of the figure to simple totemic forms. For others the harrowing knowledge of human atrocities appears reflected in their treatment of the body. The shattered figures Germaine Richier by Alberto Giacometti suggest this in different ways. Abstraction, anxiety and identity emerge through continually addressing the subject of the figure.

This display is complemented by three sculptures of the seated figure by Henry Moore on the Turbine Hall bridge. The Upright Figure is curated by Matthew Gale, Curator of International Art 1900-1960 and Frances Morris, a Senior Curator at Tate Modern. The installation has been designed by Jamie Fobert Architects.

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