Well, the end is nigh, at least, with the John Martin: Apocalypse exhibition opening at Tate Britain in less than two weeks, on 21 September.
I’m Martin Myrone, the curator of the exhibition at Tate Britain, and I’ve been working on the show with the team here at Tate and our exhibition partners at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle and the Millennium Galleries, Sheffield for the last two and a half years on planning, researching, selecting and organising this exhibition. You may have seen the great version of the show which appeared at Newcastle and Sheffield earlier this year. The Tate show is even larger, with a total of over 120 works - major paintings, sketches and watercolours, and his mezzotints and engineering plans. This will be the biggest collection of his works ever seen, and a chance to reassess this fascinating and exciting nineteenth-century artist.
Even if the name of John Martin isn’t familiar to you, you will probably know some of his most famous paintings, like The Great Day of his Wrath from the Tate collection. Spectacular paintings like this helped define the image of the apocalypse for the modern age. They’ve been used on album covers and as book illustrations, and in all sorts of other contexts (just try a quick internet search). It’s not hard to see the resonances with blockbuster cinema and computer games, and all the images of disaster and ecological threat which flood the media.
The exhibition will, we hope, celebrate this extraordinary painter, and his strange and often wonderful images. But we hope that the show will be really thought-provoking - and maybe provocative - as well as hugely enjoyable. It’s been put together as part of the Great British Art Debate, and John Martin’s art really should prompt debate - about ‘good taste’ and ‘bad taste’, about whether ‘great art’ can be truly popular, and if the art of the past can connect with life today.
I will be posting blogs in the next days, as the show is being installed and opened, where I will talk about some of these themes in a bit more detail. And I’d be really pleased to hear from you about these questions, about John Martin and his art, and about the exhibition once it opens. What would you like to hear more about?
John Martin: Apocalypse is at Tate Britain, 21 September 2011 - 15 January 2012.