Tate Modern: The Handbook
Tate Gallery Publishing
240pp, 2012 (3rd ed.)
While awaiting for the arrival of the books I ordered on Amazon, I got back to my library to search for something to read.
There are very few books in my library that I haven't read. Not that a second or third read wouldn't benefit me, quite the opposite; but I was not in the mood for that.
So I stumbled upon the Tate Modern Handbook I had bought in one of my visits to Tate Modern. Having spent the last few months reading economic history, art was a welcomed change.
The book brought back fond memories of my walks on the southern bank of the Thames, when I used to live in London. I remember the walk between the City Hall and the Tower Bridge, passing past the British Film Institute and Tate Modern, as one of my favourites over the weekends.
Tate Modern was my favourite museum, too. With 20th century art not being particularly accessible to the uninitiated, Tate Modern manages to be inviting and playful and made contemporary art approachable.
The building itself is imposing and, at first sight, rather strange for an art gallery. A disused power plant, it was smartly turned into a huge exhibition area that makes you say 'wow' without overpowering you.
A large area is kept open and houses events and installations, while the rest is organised on several levels and houses the permanent and temporary collections. The cafe/ restaurant is on the top floor and offers sweeping views to the city and the City, on the other side of the river.
I think the best part is the way the artworks are exhibited. The descriptive labels are very helpful in making the average visitor understand what is viewing and thus better judge it. In anyways, he/ she feels not excluded of the art world. I think this instigation of a dialogue between society and art is very important for a public institution that does not serve a narrowly-defined agenda.
It is also the fact that many people feel the need to express themselves, communicate and understand themselves and the times past and present, without, however, having specialised knowledge of the terms of modern art. And these are the functions that Tate Modern manages to deliver.
The Handbook offers an overview of the Tate Modern collections, in the form of an index of artists and art movements housed in the Gallery. It is not exhaustive, but selective and indicative. Each entry gives a short description of its subject and provides 1 or 2 photographs.
The strong point of the Handbook, as of Tate Modern itself, is the accessibility of its contents. Although a previous background would be helpful to better frame and evaluate the entries, you don't need to be deeply into contemporary art to appreciate them.
Indeed, I would identify two aspects that I found to raise interesting arguments:
1. The striking originality of modern art, a.k.a. the art of -very roughly- the first half of the 20th century
2. The question of whether contemporary art is 'art' at all.
My spontaneous reaction has been of a deep appreciation of the former and a scepticism, if not dismissal, of the latter. However, as the book illustrates, the subject is more complicated than that.
to be continued