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Materials and Objects

Discover artists from Tate's collection who have embraced new and unusual materials and methods

Visitors in the Materials and Objects display at Tate Modern

Photo: © Rikard Österlund

12 rooms in Materials and Objects

Enrico Baj, Fire! Fire!  1963–4

Baj’s works were influenced by the absurd humour and unconventional techniques of surrealism and dada. He was also associated with CoBrA, a group of European artists who adopted a highly expressionist painting style inspired by children’s art. In the mid-1950s Baj started painting caricatured figures on found fabrics, adding details made from collaged objects. In Fire! Fire! pieces of Meccano construction toys form a figure, while the leaves on the woven fabric are suggestive of flames. Other works of this period poke fun at ideas of power and authority, such as Baj’s portraits of military officers ‘decorated’ with real medals.

Gallery label, November 2021

highlights in Materials and Objects

Doris Salcedo, Shibboleth II  2007

highlights in Materials and Objects

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain  1917, replica 1964

Fountain is Duchamp’s most famous work. It is an example of what he called a ‘ready-made’ sculpture. These were made from ordinary manufactured objects. He then presented them as artworks. This invites us to question what makes an object ‘art’? Is this urinal ‘art’ because it is being presented in a gallery? The original 1917 version of this work has been lost. This is one of a small number of copies that Duchamp allowed to be made in 1964. Do you think it makes a difference that it is not Duchamp’s original urinal?

Gallery label, July 2020

highlights in Materials and Objects

Susumu Koshimizu, From Surface to Surface  1971, remade 1986

Koshimizu investigates the substance of wood by sawing planks into different shapes, exposing their surface qualities through different kinds of repetitive cuts. Koshimizu was part of Mono Ha (‘School of Things’), which reacted against the embrace of technology and visual trickery in mid-1960s Japanese art. They sought to understand ‘the world as it is’ by exploring the essential properties of materials, often combining organic and industrial objects and processes.

Gallery label, January 2016

highlights in Materials and Objects

Haegue Yang, Sol LeWitt Upside Down - Structure with Three Towers, Expanded 23 Times, Split in Three  2015

highlights in Materials and Objects

Lee Ufan, Relatum  1968, 1994

Lee Ufan’s sculptural works focus on the essential character and presence of their materials and their interconnections. Here he uses a single material – one hundred flat bands of stainless steel – and explores how the different elements relate to one another and to the space in which they are arranged. He has explained: ‘a work of art, rather than being a self-complete, independent entity, is a resonant relationship with the outside. It exists together with the world, simultaneously what it is and what it is not, that is, a relatum.’

Gallery label, January 2016

highlights in Materials and Objects

Giuseppe Penone, Breath 5  1978

The clay is modelled on the imagined shape of a breath of air, exhaled from the artist’s mouth. At the top is the form of the interior of Penone’s mouth, squeezed into the clay. The impression along the side of the clay is of the artist’s leg, wearing jeans, as he leans forward. Penone has made many works concerning the impression of man on nature. For Breath Penone has spoken of the influence of mythological explanations of the creation of man.

Gallery label, January 2016

highlights in Materials and Objects

Jimmie Durham, Alpine Ibex  2017

‘I wanted to gather the skulls of the largest animals of Europe and bring them back into our world’, Durham has said, describing the resulting works as ‘animal spirits’. This assemblage of found objects incorporates the skull and horns of an ibex, a wild mountain goat found in the Alps. For Durham, the work is ‘more sculptural than representative’
No animal was harmed for the purpose of creating this sculpture. The skull and horns were acquired from a licensed dealer, who only uses materials that arise as a by-product of food production or natural causes, and never from endangered or protected species.

Gallery label, December 2020

highlights in Materials and Objects


T01777: Fire! Fire!
Enrico Baj Fire! Fire! 1963–4
P20335: Shibboleth II
Doris Salcedo Shibboleth II 2007
T07573: Fountain
Marcel Duchamp Fountain 1917, replica 1964
T12822: From Surface to Surface
Susumu Koshimizu From Surface to Surface 1971, remade 1986

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