Curator Catherine Wood installing the A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance exhibition with the Tate Art Handling team
Senior Curator Catherine Wood installing the A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance exhibition with the Tate Art Handling team

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).

Jackson Pollock, 'Summertime: Number 9A' 1948
Jackson Pollock
Summertime: Number 9A 1948
Oil, enamel and house paint on canvas
© Pollock - Krasner Foundation, Inc.

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.

David Hockney, 'A Bigger Splash' 1967
David Hockney
A Bigger Splash 1967
Acrylic on canvas
support: 2425 x 2439 x 30 mm
Purchased 1981© David Hockney 2010

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.

Helena Almeida Inhabited Painting 1975
Helena Almeida
Inhabited Painting 1975

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.

Catherine Wood and artist Jutta Koether installing the A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance exhibition
Catherine Wood and artist Jutta Koether installing the A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance exhibition

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


I believe the video does not acurately portray what this exhibition is about. Gone are the days of unused spaces. So why lament the demise of the large house with servants quarters. Surely this is not a comment on societies misuse of property. If it is then who is curating this exhibition? Oh dear only posh people visit galleries?

There is so much interesting performance art relating to art, I couldn't see how you could miss out Andy Warhol but include so many totally self obsessed artists writhing around in paint or watching women writhing around. Very ugly exhibition with only one Pollock, one Hockney and none of the other modern giants who integrated art and performance much more interestingly than the rest of your exhibition. Seriously depressing exhibition.

A friend of mine once got me to paint her body blue so she could leap onto a piece of paper and leave her impression. This was back in the early 80s. The overwhelming majority of works in this exhibition were exactly this: people rolling around in paint or ink and thinking they were being very subversive. I have to say, painting my friend and watching her leap onto a piece of paper was a lot of fun, but didn't feel dangerous or subversive or even like a political act.