Wolfgang Tillmans 2017: Tate Modern

German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans’ work has become increasingly pertinent over the last few years, and following Brexit and the inauguration of Trump, the current exhibition dedicated to his work at Tate Modern feels relevant and timely. Rather than being a retrospective of Tillmans’ career, the majority of the works displayed across thirteen gallery spaces have been produced since 2003, which is when he turned his gaze onto political and social concerns. It comprises 450 images taken in 37 different countries spanning politics, freedom, portraiture, nightlife, and his own experimentation with processes involved in photography and printing. Each image is hung very simply either in plain white frames, pinned or taped to the walls, or held into place with crocodile clips – highlighting their vulnerability and how exposing (and often deeply personal) the photographs in this exhibition are. This is not to say the curation is simple, indeed whole galleries are transformed into installations. Several galleries feature images deliberately placed together unexpectedly to highlight how we experience different aspects of the world simultaneously, there is a recreation of his ‘Truth Study Centre’ project which began in 2005 where images, press cuttings, drawings and other objects are laid out together in contrary ways, as well as ‘Playback Room’ designed specifically for listening to recorded music at almost the same quality it was originally mastered. Images in the final gallery from the recent ‘The State We’re In’ project exploring current global tensions though photographs of the Atlantic ocean, country borders and landscape shots are stunning, but it was the lesser known images from his experimentation with chemicals, light, paper, ink, and the printing process that stole the show for me. These experiments resulted in wonderfully unpredictable effects and abstract images which I was previously unfamiliar with. On display until early June, I’d strongly suggest heading over to Southbank for an aptly-timed, educational visit!

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Performing For The Camera: Tate Modern

Directly across the hallway from ‘Performing Sculpture’ at Tate Modern is ‘Performing For The Camera’ – a photography exhibition spanning fourteen galleries and exploring the relationship between photography and performance. Taking a thematic approach the exhibition looks at how the camera has been used as a tool for exploring identity, gender and sexism, race and politics, and manipulated in advertising and by society’s portrayal and construction of themselves from its invention in the 1800’s to contemporary social media. It comprises over 500 images and several stand out; three large black and white images of Ai Wei Wei holding a 2,000 year old Han dynasty urn, dropping the urn, and the urn smashing on the floor, as well as Tomoko Sawada’s ‘ID400’ showing a collection of passport photographs taken by the artist over a 4 year period highlighting her diverse looks and identities yet still being the same person, Jemima Stehli’s ‘Strip’ which depicts the artist taking her clothes off in front of six different subjects who control the camera and timing of photos being taken, and Romain Mader’s ‘Ekaterina’ which humorously discusses Ukranian mail-order-bride tourism through a series of nine staged photographs. Another highlight of the exhibition was being introduced to Japanese photographer Eikoh Hosoe whose collaboration with the dancer Tatsumi Hijikata are documented in wonderful black and white images densely hung against bright red walls. With such a large volume of photographs on display there were bound to be some notable images, however the exhibition as a whole lacked something, and in contrast to the Calder exhibition across the corridor I felt that sculpture ‘performed’ much better than the camera on this occasion.

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Alexander Calder, Performing Sculpture: Tate Modern

I must confess my ignorance as I knew very little about Alexander Calder until visiting Tate Modern’s current ‘Performing Sculpture’ exhibition, and came away feeling not only educated but physically lighter as it’s such a playful show! It focusses on the American artists’ work between 1930 and 1940 and spans eleven galleries, displaying a range of delicate wire sculptures, hanging mobiles, large scale pieces and even a sculptural musical instrument (consisting of a sphere at the end of a string, which knocks against bottles, a box, a can and a gong on the floor which originally could be re-arranged by viewers to produce different sounds). Creativity was certainly in Calder’s blood as his father and grandfather were both sculptors and his mother was a painter, so it should come as no surprise that he wasn’t afraid to push boundaries and break away from sculpting a solid mass and experiment with unconventional materials such as wire, cork and buttons in contrast to more traditional stone and wood. His interest in the performing arts is also evident throughout; explicit in his wire creations of acrobats and circus performers, and implicit in his desire to produce pieces which literally dance in the air. Calder’s mobiles are created from different materials of varying weights enabling them to move independently of each other – and this in turn allowed each sculpture to create its own shadow against the clean gallery walls, spinning slowly as visitors walked past or a breeze moved through the space. Likewise each piece caught the light in a different way which really added to the exhibition, and was something that could only be appreciated by viewing the sculptures in person and failed to be replicated by the exhibition catalogue or still photographs. So make sure you see it for yourself before it closes on 3rd April.

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The World Goes Pop: Tate Modern

A “pop” of colour was just what I needed on a grey afternoon as autumn truly begins to kick in… and that’s exactly what ‘The World Goes Pop’ gave me. Each of the ten large galleries in this exhibition is painted a different bright hue; from red, to pink, green, orange, blue, yellow, turquoise and numerous shades in between. Refreshingly all of the big names typically associated with pop art (Warhol, Lichtenstein, Blake, Hamilton and Hockney) are noticeably absent, and instead the focus is on exploring how different cultures and countries such as Romania, Iran and Bratislava contributed to this phenomenon throughout the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Many common pop art themes are present including the use of mass produced imagery; most notable in the last gallery which is decorated floor to ceiling with Thomas Bayrle’s ‘The Laughing Cow’ wallpaper and displays a series of instantly recognisable logos by Yugoslavian artist Boris Bucan such as BMW, Pepsi, IBM and Texaco amongst others where the brand has been replaced with the word ‘art’, questioning how far art itself has now become a consumerist product? All of the artists on display have utilised popular global imagery to subtly address tougher issues including war, the role of women and sexual liberation, protest and civil rights. Intelligently any political message does not detract from the works as pieces of art in their own right, and I was particularly drawn to three lacquered car bonnets decorated with shapes evoking female genitalia by Judy Chicago, the only woman on an auto-body course of 250 male students. Whilst some of the pieces were not to my taste, and several are now looking a little dated (particularly those created from plastics and polymers), I certainly appreciated the exhibitions’ efforts to widen the publics gaze at pop art and present previously uncelebrated works.

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