Art Under Attack exhibition web banner for Tate Britain exhibition

This is the first exhibition to explore the history of image-breaking in Britain over five hundred years. ‘Iconoclasm’ is now often seen as a positive term applied to innovation, but its origins lie in its entry into the English language in the sixteenth century, derived from the Greek eikon or image, and klastes or breaker. Here iconoclasm means ‘image breaking’.

The exhibition presents a selection of strategies behind attacks on art in three broad chronological sections: Religion, Politics and Aesthetics.

The first sections explore the beginnings of state-administered iconoclasm under Henry VIII, with attacks on religious art that began with the Reformation, and the expansion of its targets by later rulers and Puritan reformers who feared idolatry.

Political iconoclasm encompasses the symbolic statue-breaking that represents political difference and the targeted attacks on cultural heritage by the Suffragettes demanding political change.

Iconoclasm motivated by the aesthetics or appearance of an artwork begins with attacks on art by individuals, and ends with the works of contemporary artists for whom ideas of destruction and change are forms of creation.