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Modern Conversations

What does it mean to be modern?

a person stands to look at a display in Tate St Ives

Modern Conversations display, Tate St Ives 2021 © Kirstin Prisk

5 rooms in Modern Conversations

Sun Setting

Dame Barbara Hepworth, Sun Setting  1971

© Bowness

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Untitled (Silueta Series, Mexico)

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Silueta Series, Mexico)  1976

This is a colour photograph looking into an alcove set in the wall of a building. A human figure made of interwoven twigs is fixed in the centre of the alcove. It appears to hang against the stone and plaster wall at the back of the alcove, with its arms upraised and its feet disappearing into nothing. Delicate and stylised, the figure has a swollen belly and the suggestion of the curves of a breast and a buttock, as though it is female and twisted slightly towards its right. Mendieta fashioned the silhouette form, following the contours of her own body, from burned thorny twigs, before fixing it in the niche of a building located in the church and monastery complex of Cuilapán de Guerrero, near the city of Oaxaca in Mexico. This sixteenth-century basilica constructed by Dominican friars during the era of the Spanish colonisation of Mexico was the site of several untitled works from Mendieta’s Silueta series in 1973, 1974 and 1976, including an imprint of her body in red on a white sheet hung in the same alcove above an arrangement of dried yucca stalks (reproduced Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972–1985, p.161). Mendieta also photographed the twig figure balanced on a broken column inside one of the monastery buildings (reproduced Unseen Mendieta, p.90).

© The estate of Ana Mendieta, courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York

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Salmon Net Posts

Joan Eardley, Salmon Net Posts  c.1961–62

Joan Eardley studied at Glasgow School of Art and lived in the city from 1940 to 1961. In 1950 she discovered the small fishing village of Catterline on the east coast of Scotland, and was captivated by the place. She rented cottages there from 1950 to 1961, when Catterline became her permanent home. Fishermen caught crabs and lobster in summer and cod and haddock in winter. There was also a salmon season from February to August when these fish were caught in bag nets. The nets were stretched out to dry on the grass above the high water line of the Catterline shore and Eardley painted them on the spot.

Gallery label, August 2004

© The estate of Joan Eardley

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Image of the Fish God

Alan Davie, Image of the Fish God  1956

Davie’s paintings are characterised by a variety of personal pictograms, shapes and symbols that he has defined as ‘primordial’. He believes that they have ‘many and varied meanings’, which he leaves open to poetic interpretation and free association. Image of the Fish God has a totemic monumentality that evokes ancient cultures and shamanistic beliefs. The black form may be seen as figurative, and the central diamond is reminiscent of an all-seeing eye.

Gallery label, July 2012

© Estate of Alan Davie

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Bahrain I

Andreas Gursky, Bahrain I  2005

Bahrain I 2005 is a very large portrait format colour photograph by the German artist Andreas Gursky of the Bahrain International Circuit, a motorsport race track completed in 2004 that hosts the country’s annual Formula One Grand Prix. Taken from a helicopter and subsequently manipulated using digital software, the photograph shows the track curving in a snake-like fashion through the desert landscape, the black asphalt forming a strong contrast with the beige sand surrounding it. No cars or people are visible in the image, although a long horizontal grandstand with a white roof can be seen just above the centre of the composition. A cluster of distant buildings are also perceptible near the horizon underneath a hazy grey-blue sky. Tate’s copy is number one in an edition of six (plus an artist’s proof).

© Courtesy Monika Sprueth Galerie, Koeln / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn and DACS, London 2021

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Untitled (from the series Blind Paintings)

Tomie Ohtake, Untitled (from the series Blind Paintings)  1962

Untitled 1962 is an oil painting with an abstract composition consisting of a large central spiral where ripples of layered white and blue paint converge, recalling some form of cosmic phenomenon. The thin layers of paint have been meticulously overlaid in order to achieve a complex layering which reveals the artist’s characteristically painstaking and methodical process. Ohtake allowed natural rhythm to infuse her compositions whilst at the same time tempering them. Like all of her works, this painting is left untitled. The Brazilian artist Lygia Clark (1920–1988) stated of her friend’s work, ‘A painting by Tomie has no title. It is.’ (Lygia Clark quoted in Instituto Tomie Ohtake 2009, p.71.) Though born in Japan, Ohtake moved to Brazil in 1936 and this painting would have been made there.

© reserved

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Bahrain I

Andreas Gursky, Bahrain I  2005

Bahrain I 2005 is a very large portrait format colour photograph by the German artist Andreas Gursky of the Bahrain International Circuit, a motorsport race track completed in 2004 that hosts the country’s annual Formula One Grand Prix. Taken from a helicopter and subsequently manipulated using digital software, the photograph shows the track curving in a snake-like fashion through the desert landscape, the black asphalt forming a strong contrast with the beige sand surrounding it. No cars or people are visible in the image, although a long horizontal grandstand with a white roof can be seen just above the centre of the composition. A cluster of distant buildings are also perceptible near the horizon underneath a hazy grey-blue sky. Tate’s copy is number one in an edition of six (plus an artist’s proof).

© Courtesy Monika Sprueth Galerie, Koeln / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn and DACS, London 2021

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The Timid Proud One

Asger Jorn, The Timid Proud One  1957

Jorn had been a prominent member of CoBrA, a group of northern European artists whose improvisatory approach to painting was intended as a way of liberating their work from repressive bourgeois conventions. Although this painting was made several years after the group disbanded, its child-like style reflects the same principles. The figure embodies some mysterious inner struggle, perhaps reflected in the title. Jorn was a great believer in these kind of opposed dualities. ‘Tension in a work of art is negative-positive: repulsive-attractive, ugly-beautiful. If one of these poles is removed, only boredom is left’, he said.

Gallery label, November 2005

© DACS 2021

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Between the Two my Heart is Balanced

Lubaina Himid, Between the Two my Heart is Balanced  1991

This work re-imagines Victorian artist James Tissot’s painting Portsmouth Dockyard c.1877 and is titled after a similar engraving. Tissot’s work features a white British soldier seated in a boat between two white women. In Lubaina Himid’s version, the soldier is replaced with a stack of coloured objects. According to the artist, they are maps which the Black female figures are tearing up and discarding. This action might be seen as a rejection of forms of knowledge and navigation traditionally controlled by white men. Himid has stated the work is ‘a musing on what would happen if black women got together and started to try to destroy maps and charts – to undo what has been done’.

Gallery label, August 2020

© Lubaina Himid

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Midonz

Ronald Moody, Midonz  1937

We do not know for sure the identity of this monumental head. One writer suggested she is Moody’s ‘vision of woman, primordial and awakening’. Moody himself described her as ‘the goddess of transmutation’. Moody was interested in Gnosticism, a belief in the redemption of the spirit from physical matter through spiritual knowledge. It may be this sort of transmutation that he had in mind.

Midonz was shown in Paris and Baltimore in the 1930s, after which it was lost for almost fifty years.

Gallery label, August 2003

© The estate of Ronald Moody

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Fighting One’s Self

Virginia Chihota, Fighting One’s Self  2016

This is one of two screenprints in Tate’s collection by Virginia Chihota that share the same title and date; where this one is landscape format, the other (Tate P81969) is portrait format. Both prints are unique and therefore not editioned, and form part of an ongoing series of monoprints – five at the time of writing – with the collective title Fighting One’s Self (‘Kuzvirwisa’ in the artist’s native Shona language). The title and images communicate varying aesthetic approaches to the theme of mental and physical isolation. Though created in series, the works are considered individual and can be displayed as such. This particular print is dominated by luminous gold ink, suspended in the centre of which is a large sac-like form positioned along its horizontal axis. The ovoid shape contains a human figure whose small black face and torso recede in relation to the flexed arm and disproportionately elongated leg, both articulated in taupe. The warm pink tones surrounding the figure are accented by two small striated Y-shapes rendered in blood red, evoking a uterine environment, and a colour prevalent in much of Chihota’s earlier work. The portrait-format print has a cool palette of predominantly blue and purple, overlaid by thin washes of red. Large concentric ovals of blue, purple and pale red form egg-like layers, within which a figure shields its face from view. The composition of both prints bears strong allusions to fertility, the placement of the human figure within such a sac being intentionally womb-like.

© reserved

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Loss of Selves, Place and Transformation

Veronica Ryan, Loss of Selves, Place and Transformation  2000

This work is one of three drawings in Tate’s collection (see also Gravitas Profundis II 2000, Tate T07772 and Gravitas Profundis III 2000, Tate T07773) that Ryan made while she was artist in residence at Tate St Ives (1998-2000). During this period, Ryan worked in the former studio of Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). Hepworth had moved to St Ives shortly before the outbreak of World War II, and lived and worked in the area for the remainder of her life. She was interested particularly in the qualities of form and space, and her carved sculptures were often pierced expressing a concern with internal and external forms. While in residence in the studio, Ryan made a series of works that responded to Hepworth’s practice while simultaneously addressing her own concerns. Ryan found the Cornish peninsula reminded her strongly of the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean where she was born and lived until emigrating with her family to the United Kingdom as a young child. These similarities prompted Ryan to revisit childhood memories in the work she made at St Ives.

© Veronica Ryan

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Highlights

Sun Setting
Dame Barbara Hepworth Sun Setting 1971
Untitled (Silueta Series, Mexico)
Ana Mendieta Untitled (Silueta Series, Mexico) 1976
Salmon Net Posts
Joan Eardley Salmon Net Posts c.1961–62
Image of the Fish God
Alan Davie Image of the Fish God 1956

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