This week we’re interested in how we best experience artworks, specifically in the gallery setting.
Often galleries are characterised as quiet, contemplative spaces, where you may be told off for talking too loudly.
But many museum and gallery spaces are actually supreme social spaces.Great places for first dates, family outings, meeting friends and showing off!
We tend to do other cultural things in groups, we often find like-minded friends to go to a concert or the theatre with, and discuss afterwards, but there is something about the gallery or museum that creates a space between, that potentially allows you a meditative time and a social experience simultaneously.
The experiences I return to most often to recharge my art batteries tend to be the ones I had by myself – time to sit with Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ in the National Gallery on a wet lunchtime or seeing Charles Avery’s The Islanders. But the ones I talk about most? Probably the ones that I had a social experience with – seeing people disappear into Miroslaw Balka’s How It Is for the first time, for example. Obviously some artists set out to set up social experiences for you, and some works inherently are best seen by yourself.
Here artist Olafur Eliasson talks about how experiences of The Weather Project 2003 were both collective and singular or individual.
So, in general, do you visit galleries as a social experience, or do you go for a contemplative, meditative experience?
To set you thinking, we asked people around the organisation to talk about works they’d seen at Tate (both on display now, or long gone) that were affected by the people they were with (or not with!), and which make them want to talk about art, spark them off in new directions or want to take other people in there as soon as possible.
I always tell people to go and see the Coral Reef by Mike Nelson at Tate Britain. Sometimes I take them to its blank front door and leave them there. I don’t want to go round with them, because I’ll giggle and stare at their reactions, and spoil all of the surprises. But afterwards, we’re all in the Coral Reef Club of Unfinished Sentences. But did you see the – ? And what about the – ? And then the – ! I’m not sure what I’ll recommend when it’s gone, it’s like a magnet in the middle of the gallery, and like an itch inside my head.
Hannah Flynn, Great British Art Debate coordinator
My encounter with Martin Creed’s Work No.210 Half the air in a given space made me feel like an explorer. Walking into 10 feet of balloons alone felt exciting, disorientating, funny, a little claustrophobic, and thought provoking. The gallery space so well known to me became a foreign country demanding new skills for navigation. Once mastered it was a joy to lead the nervous and hesitant into the latex sea!
Mark Osterfield, Executive Director Tate St Ives
Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project 2003 prompted an unexpectedly social and yet intensely contemplative experience. Lying on the turbine hall floor to gaze into the mirror above, a group of visitors arranged their bodies (backwards!) to spell NO WAR. Suddenly my reflective self was plunged back to reality, lured by the sun.Mike Nelson: The Coral Reef A maze of dystopian locations: echoes of war, torture and horror. Rooms with ages furniture and old-fashioned fans. Discarded magazines. Guns. A clown mask. Would it have been the same without a terrified female companion? I visited again later with someone else, totally nonplussed by the experience. It wasn’t the same.
Susan Holtham PA to Director, Audiences and Media
Rob Adamson, Technical Architect:
The novelty of walking through Wayne Hemingway’s Sculpture Remixed display never wore off for me. Seeing some of the Tate collection’s most famous sculptures in a silent disco setting was a surreal feeling, and never failed to make me smile even by myself on my most hectic days. It was also a great display to visit with friends though, who thought that art galleries were stuffy and not for them, and it was always fun to see how surprised they were by what they saw.
Carly Townsend, Marketing Assistant
Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project is the only artwork I can recall where I felt that the crowds of visitors really contributed to the work through their presence. In my mind’s eye I can’t divorce the installation from the throng of viewers on the Turbine Hall bridge, heads silhouetted against the giant sun, or the reflections in the mirrored ceiling of the shapes that people lying on the floor below formed with their bodies. The presence of a crowd seemed to be integral to the effect of that particular artwork.
Alex Pilcher, Web Designer
Tate Debate aims to open up new discussions around art, museum practice and wider culture. The topics debated are chosen and written by a range of people across the organisation.