When Joan Miró was asked what he thought was the most important thing he had done to respond to the regime of General Franco’s dictatorship he said: ‘Free and violent things… The works themselves, through their violence and their sense of liberty. That touched people.’ He was referring to an extraordinary series of paintings done late in his life called the Burnt Canvases, which he cut, ripped, stamped on and set on fire, several of which were on show at Tate Modern’s Miró exhibition.
We can now see that Joan Miró’s mark-making had a political edge to it, yet often artists function more benignly. Leonadro da Vinci urged his students to stare at the abstract stains on walls in search of images of ‘landscapes, battles, clouds, uncommon attitudes, humorous faces, draperies’. And as Christopher Turner explores, many have developed this rich vein in the form of accidental blots, spills and marks, as can be seen in the work of Alexander Cozens (who featured in Tate Britain’s Watercolour exhibition) as well as Victor Hugo and Vik Muniz. Happy accidents these may be, but such practice goes to the heart of debates about perception and interpretation.
Other artists have preferred to push the boundaries of what the material presence of art is and, in certain cases, aim for invisibility, as Anna Dezeuze finds out. From Duchamp’s phial of Paris air, via Yves Klein’s notorious exhibition The Void to Martin Creed’s more recent Work No.227: The lights going on and off, artists have often enjoyed making something from nothing. No doubt Leonardo would have approved.
Bice Curiger and Simon Grant
The pioneering Korean-born artist and composer Nam June Paik (1932–2006), who famously declared that the ‘future is now’, is considered to be the father of video art. In his early performance pieces and later in his installation and video works, he collaborated with many fellow avant-garde practitioners. On the eve of a retrospective at Tate Liverpool, the curator of his first European museum exhibition celebrates the early decades of Paik’s remarkable career
Susan Hiller: In her mixed-media installations and video works, Susan Hiller’s art journeys through the intangible landscapes of imagination, dreams and memories, with subjects as diverse as supernatural experiences, dying languages, psychoanalysis and cultural history. As her forthcoming Tate survey exhibition reveals, Hiller enjoys
The Romanticism display in the Clore Galleries at Tate Britain features more than 170 paintings and prints, as well as photographs from the 1970s to the present day, exploring the origins, inspirations and legacies of British Romantic art
Tate Britain is staging a grand survey of watercolour painting in Great Britain, from the early thirteenth century through to the first decade of the twenty-first. The extraordinary variety of styles, subjects and techniques offers an alternative history of art - taking in cartography, botanical drawings, portraiture and abstract fantasy. Tate Etc. invites a selection of naturalists, writers, artists, editors and enthusiasts to celebrate this persistent medium.
The artist Francis Towne’s near abstract eighteenth-century watercolours of Swiss glaciers were to inspire Eric Ravilious more than a century later, but with tragic consequences
Ever since Leonardo da Vinci urged artists to search for inspiration in the dirt on walls or the streaked patterns in stones, they have found that the accidental blot, the chance mark, or the naturally occurring stain can be a starting point for some extraordinary art
While the work of Joan Miró (1893–1983) may be well known across the world, a forthcoming exhibition at Tate Modern that focuses on his political engagement, his Catalan identity, the Spanish Civil War and the rise and fall of Franco’s regime aims to change the view of this popular artist. One of the most dramatic examples of Miró’s response to this context was his series Burnt Canvases, done late in his life
Since it was shown at the Venice Biennale in 1993, Gabriel Orozco’s Empty Shoe Box has become one of most cited examples of controversial works of art. It was made by the Mexican artist whose mid-career survey exhibition opens soon at Tate Modern. Taking an irreverent yet incisive view of the art world, the original curator of his Venice show looks back at how Orozco emerged as an important talent
In 2006 Gabriel Orozco installed an 11.7 metre grey whale skeleton in Mexico City’s José Vasconcelos Library. But how did it get there? The story of the making of Mobile Matrix is as extraordinary as the piece itself
A fellow artist celebrates several well-known works
On the eve of his exhibition at Tate St Ives, the former Turner Prize winner introduces a fascinating project that creates an unlikely partnership between Henry Moore and Japanese Noh theatre
In 1905 four young Dresden art students, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel and Fritz Bleyl, set up the Künstlergruppe Brücke (Artists Group Bridge). Their first exhibition was held in the showroom of a lamp factory, and a rare, if poor quality, photograph survives as a record of their radical approach to displaying art
Contemporary reflections on a work in the Tate collection
In her exploration of the Design Research Unit, one of the first British design consultants, Michelle Cotton unearths an unrealistic car design by Naum Gabo
La Carte D’Après Nature, curated by Thomas Demand, New National Museum of Monaco, Villa Paloma, Monaco until 22 February 2011.
Simon Grant, editor of Tate Etc. visits the inauguration of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha
The acclaimed Amercian artist reveals a long-held fascination with Ophelia by John Everett Millais (1829–1896), one of Tate’s most admired paintings, and explains how it influenced his own work
Marcel Duchamp’s phial of Paris air, Yves Klein’s The Void exhibition, Martin Creed’s Work No.227: The lights going on and off, Gabriel Orozco’s Empty Shoe Box – for decades, artists have pushed the boundaries of how close to nothing an artwork or exhibition can be. How far can they go?
In an age when installations, art environments, ‘scatter art’ and large-scale mixed media works are the norm, the traditional confines of the museum and art gallery spaces are continually under scrutiny. As a natural consequence, the methods of displaying art have transformed, but as three specialists in their field acknowledge here, historically there was more to a museum display than crowded pictures and pot plants, and this history is worth bearing in mind today.
The Surreal House, by Jane Alison with essays by Mary Ann Caws, Brian Dillon and others. Published by Barbican Art Gallery in association with Yale University Press.