Today we start installing A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance. This exhibition is going to tackle the broad territory of the relationship between painting and performance since the 1950s, but it’s thinking in particular about the ways in which artists’ experiments with action, self-presentation and theatricality have had an impact upon how the next generation understand the possibilities for painting today.
One of the questions we’ve been thinking about at Tate Modern is how the so-called ‘major’ (ie familiar, painting and sculpture) histories of art intersect with the ‘minor’ (performance and film). Both types of work have been part of Tate’s programme since it opened, but often they’ve been presented separately in their own spaces, with different kinds of display.
So part of what this exhibition is doing is bringing these two kinds of history and practice back into conversation. The show begins with a pairing of two pivotal works from Tate’s collection: Jackson Pollock’s Summertime (1948) and David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash (1967).
Seen in conjunction with footage of the artist, each proposes a different approach to painting. For Pollock, the canvas is itself a field of action, a real-time record of the artist’s movements in actual space and time. In Hockney’s case, the painting becomes an artificial backdrop that opens up a theatrical space, implying the viewer’s entrance into its fictional world with fictional space and time co-ordinates.
The exhibition is organized from this ‘prologue’ onwards into two parts. The first half is a thematic, partial-survey of the agitated relationship between performance and painting internationally, between the 1950s and the early 1980s. Artists included here including the Gutai Group, the Vienna Aktionists, Stuart Brisley, Wiktor Gutt, Cindy Sherman and Helena Almeida look variously at ways in which the act of applying paint to canvas can itself be a form of performance, as well as the reinvention of painting as a collaborative or ritualistic action, and subsequently – through artists working largely from feminist or queer perspectives in the 1970s – how it was re-thought in new media as costume, make-up or drag.
In the second part of the show, each room is devoted to a single contemporary artist or group. This work has been selected as a way of considering the impact of these experiments in performance, theatricality and masquerade on expanded forms of painting being made from the late 1970s to the present day, and includes work by Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Irwin, Ei Arakawa, Lucy McKenzie and others.
The exhibition opens in two weeks on November 14. Over the coming weeks and throughout the show we’ll be blogging about some of the stories and themes as well as seeing some of the work that goes into putting on an exhibition like this.
Catherine Wood is Curator of Contemporary Art & Performance at Tate Modern