Sunday, March 30, 2003

The Tate St Ives

The Tate St Ives is a good looking building (kind of reconstructed 30s industrial) and the beachside location is stunning but it seems to operate on a reverse tardis principal with much less room inside than is apparent from the outside. Consequently I’ve always found shows here a bit of a let down (I remember a particularly insipidly small Rothko one), this current display however seems to work.

There are three major things going on in the gallery at the moment.

Terry Frost
– a retrospective, a room of new work and another small room of his selections from the Tate collection. I found his new work a little bland and the old work a little tired; I did however enjoy his collection selection, which included Reinhart, Delaney, Kandinsky and Barnett Newman.

Pier Arts Centre Collection
– The Orkneys’ Pier Arts Centre is being renovated, so for a year some of its collection of ‘St Ives’ artists is on loan to the Tate. Initial thoughts are that this is a standard selection of St Ives’ work (although it does include some gems by Alfred Wallis, Ben Nicholson etc). What however makes it different is the way it’s shown. The artist Julie Roberts (one of the three showing in ‘Painting Not Painting’) has designed Barbara Hepworth wallpaper, which lines the gallery. The shock of the non-white walls is one thing but a patterned wall in an art gallery is quite fantastic! The wallpaper image is of Hepworth in baggy boiler suit equipped with a hammer and chisel sculpting away at one of her trademark organic, oval shapes. The colours are beautifully nostalgic and the handmade, screen printed surface is a homely English version of Warhol’s cow paper. It lifts the art hung upon it to a new level and for the first time I can feel the excitement that the incoming Nicholson felt when he first saw Alfred Wallis’ paintings whilst his own fireworks and Coty paintings are revitalised and compelling.

Painting Not Painting
– Julie Roberts, Jim Lambie and Victoria Morton. This is a commendable effort to investigate the diverging practices that make up contemporary painting. Jim Lambie is really more of a sculptor and his ‘zoobop’ must surely be one of the most over exposed art pieces of the 21st Century. If you haven’t yet seen it, it is a custom made floor covering made up of strips of different coloured tape which together form a kind of psychedelic, stripy lino. Victoria Morton does abstract canvases. The catalogue essay attempts to place her in some new kind of category where the artist works into the space of the canvas using gestural marks but I’m not sure I go for it. Colours are nice though. The most interesting work for me is that of the fore mentioned wallpaper designer, Julie Roberts. I haven’t heard of her before but judging by her cv she’s been around a while and despite my disappointment when I read that she is interested in examining the depiction and role of women in art (a prejudice of 20th Century Feminist art that I should get over!) her work was fascinating. Roberts has painted the walls of a small room with watercolour so it resembles faded Victorian wallpaper. Upon this are hung a series of her precisely made drawings of the victims of Jack The Ripper based on research made in the public records library. Although fairly gruesome (one in particular) they gave a peculiar dignity to these women who are only remembered because of their deaths. The understatedness of the installation is a fantastic subtle contrast to the bombastic nature of Lambie’s ‘Zoobop’.

The message I took away was that painting has expanded its boundaries and anything can now be included within its remit, including sculpture, drawing and installation. This is I think a very positive development.

Overall the gallery is as interesting as its ever been, so head down to St Ives before the summer surf crowd take it over.

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