A Rant about Modern Art and the Tate Modern

21 Sep
Posted in: Best Of, London
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I don’t get modern art. Don’t get me wrong, I like modern art, sometimes, but I don’t usually GET it. I’m pretty convinced that no one other than very imaginative people, other artists, and art students actually GET it. I’m pretty sure that sometimes (often?) there’s nothing there to be gotten. But I love exhibits at places like the Museum of Contemporary Art (aka the MCA) in Chicago, the new Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, the MoMA, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s permanent collection of modern art. The MCA’s exhibits have opened my eyes to modern art; they’ve always fun, awesomely interpreted insights into the stuff. They’re exhibits that I talk about and remember long after having seen them. I like my modern art with a side of interpretation, of historical context. Even better if it’s participatory (the idea of walking across a room of orange shag carpet sounds stupid, but it was pretty hard not to enjoy in person). I can’t just stand there, look at a piece of string that looks like a hairy poop chain entitled Untitled #489076, and figure out how I’m supposed to appreciate it. I’m not an art student and I’m not imaginative enough. I need someone to tell me how to understand.

Everyone says that one of the top things to do in London is to visit the Tate Modern. It’s free, and I was pretty sure I’d like it, so it was one of the first things we did.

There’s a bar on the top floor; I’d recommend stopping at the bar first for a drink (even better: the view from up there is amazing). That will either assist your appreciation of the art, or it will help you to not be embarrassed when you giggle at the many representations of poop that find their way into the art installations, or the shadow Ken and Barbie porno shown in one unavoidable passage (I’d like to know what Ken’s penis is made of — maybe it’s a hairy baby carrot? It’s a little out of proportion).

Having not stopped at the bar, I was both annoyed at the art and annoyed that I was annoyed at the art.

It’s all so dark, so brown. It’s hung all muddled together, paintings awkwardly stacked on one another, installations crammed into small rooms. There’s too many small, dark video installations to navigate through on your way between galleries. It’s a huge building but the galleries felt small and crowded and inaccessible.

Phew. As someone who rarely rants like this, this rant feels good. At least the Tate Modern made me FEEL something. Even if it was only annoyed frustration.

But then, later…

Paul’s phone committed ritualistic suicide, taking down with it our earlier mocking photos from the Tate. So we had to go back. And it was kind of fun. We made a list of the photos we wanted and went on a scavenger hunt to find them. In a way, these photos are evidence of our own little piece of performance art. This piece is not for sale.

Recommended reading: The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe