When André Breton made his speech at the notorious First International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936, he did so, as Bill Brandts photograph tells us, standing next to Roland Penrose’s sculpture The Last Voyage of Captain Cook. The piece is now on display at Tate Modern, but before then it had been on many journeys around the world, from Tokyo to New York to Gloucester. An artist must always relinquish his or her work once it is released into the world – where it starts a life of its own, open to various interpretations, sometimes way beyond its creator’s original intention.
Could Paul Gauguin, for example, have thought that his highly charged paintings done in Brittany, Arles and Tahiti would make him a pioneering modernist? But as Tate Modern’s exhibition claims to show, there is always more to the myths and fables that surrounded Gauguin’s life than his legacy suggests.
Sometimes artworks can create more controversy than expected. Rachel Whiteread could not have anticipated the political machinations and conflict that emerged in the making of her much-lauded Holocaust memorial in the Judenplatz in Vienna. However, her drawings and the objects that she collected over the years, including stick guns belonging to her eldest son, have, on the whole, had a private life of their own. No doubt this will change when they are put on display at Tate Britain. And as Whiteread says, the pleasure of such objects relates to the projection one puts on them.
The notion of the public is very much at the forefront of the work of Ai Weiwei, the next artist to take over Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Ai is famously known as a user of the microblogging service Twitter. He is followed by thousands and regards this platform, on which he talks on subjects ranging from politics to art, as almost like a school. Such is its success that it is becoming hard to distinguish between his public activities and his more studio-based art-making in his Chinese homeland. His art has taken on a life of its own. It is a development that Breton could not have imagined, even in his wildest Surreal dreams.
Bice Curiger and Simon Grant
In this issue
The practice of choreographed movement has never been merely about decorative spectacle, but as artists and performers have shown throughout the twentieth century, it can express how people relate and interact with each other. The medium that occupies the thinnest boundary between art and life continues to attract the current generation of artists
The pioneering nineteenth-century Anglo-American photographer is best known for his images of animal and human subjects in motion, but was also a highly successful landscape and survey photographer, documentary artist, war correspondent and inventor. His work not only laid the foundations for the birth of the cinema, but influenced subsequent generations of artists and filmmakers.
In the early eighteenth century Joseph Addison described the notion of the sublime as something that ‘fills the mind with an agreeable kind of horror’. It was an idea feverishly explored by artists such as Turner, John Martin and Caspar David Friedrich, and further taken up by the American abstract painters Rothko and Barnett Newman. But how about now? As Tate comes to the close of a three-year research project, ‘The Sublime Object: Nature, Art and Language’, Tate Etc. explores how contemporary artists have responded.
In the first of a new series, Tate Etc. explores the life and times of a work in the Tate collection: Roland Penrose’s lively Surrealist sculpture The Last Voyage of Captain Cook. Initially shown at the notorious First International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936, it subsequently toured the world over the decades and is on display at Tate Britain.
The Chinese artist has become one of the most important cultural commentators of his generation. On the eve of the opening of his installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, Tate Etc. explores how he translates some of his perceptions of life into his artistic practice.
Before his self-imposed exhile in Tahiti, the pioneer of modernism spent his formative years in Brittany, northern France. Here, he made his first painterly explorations into a world that blended religion, fable, myth and local traditions. And he would produce some of the most extraordinary paintings of his life - several of which are included in Tate Modern’s exhibition of the artist.
During the research for his novel The Way to Paradise, which interweaves the life of Gauguin with that of his half-Peruvian grandmother Flora Tristan, the Peruvian writer visited Tahiti where he encountered the mahu – “human beings of uncertain gender” who also feature in the artist’s paintings.
To coincide with the Paul Gauguin exhibition, Lisa Liebmann and her husband pen a very personal interpretation of what the notion of paradise has meant to them over the years.
He was the only native-born Cornishman of the post-war St Ives group of artists, and his work reflected the local landscape with a painterly experimentation unmatched by his peers. Surprisingly, a little-known relationship with Italy informed some of his best work done in Cornwall
The Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) is regarded as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. His characteristic canvases made up of bold grids of vertical and horizontal black lines interspersed with a narrow range of coloured rectangles and squares influenced generations of artists and designers. However, less well known is the two years that he lived in London between 1938 and 1940, where as well as making new paintings, he developed a private passion for Walt Disney
Individual reflections on a work in the Tate collection
On his first visit to the Tate archive, the London-based writer Joe Dunthorne finds a Christmas card from Grayson Perry that reflects the artist’s witty satire on consumer culture
To coincide with Tate Britain’s exhibition of the artist’s drawings, as well as the objects from her personal collection that she has acquired over the years, Tate Etc. visits Rachel Whiteread in her studio and talks to her about the controversies that accompanied her early large-scale work, the importance of her drawings, how she got a cast of Peter Sellers’s nose and why she continues to collect strange items from around the world.
Recent urban regeneration projects, both in the UK and abroad, have often combined the building of shopping centres and apartments with cultural centres and galleries. But how successful have these projects been?