Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Emperor's New Clothes

We had a lovely 2 day break down in Cornwall last weekend. Monday was not quite beach weather, so we decided to pay a visit to the Tate St Ives art gallery. I came out feeling that we had been totally ripped off by a collection of the most pretentious load of rubbish I have ever paid to see (and remember, I am a Southampton fan ).

Here is my honest, open minded, review

A beautiful, impressive building that cleverly blends in with it’s surroundings. Ok, that’s the good bit over with.It is split into several sections with separate exhibitions in each room. When we visited these were –in no particular order - as follows, along with my own reviews.

Alfred Wallis: I’ve heard of this guy before. A famous St Ives painter, he recorded images of ships out at sea, and other local scenes, as he saw them in his head, on random scraps of card. Sorry, but the world is not 2 dimensional; boats do not travel vertically up the sea. These were no better quality than you would expect to find in an infant school, with no unique feature or style to set them apart from work by children of that age. One picture I thought summed up the work. It’s title alongside it was “St Michaels Mount (or Gibraltar?)”, note the question mark. I have been to both, this was definitely neither.

Bojan Sarcevic: A room divided by a few sheets of clear thick perspex that you had to take care not to bump into in the dull light, with a projector playing a flickering cine film of various bits of “sculpture”. I think we endured this one for the length of time it took to cross the room and get out the other end.

Lawrence Weiner: An empty room with 10 pieces of text painted onto the wall. These had the appearance of large car number plates, at an angle of 45 degrees, with three word phrases such as “cobblers eat cheese” (I doubt that was really one of them, but they were all that forgettable) spelt out on blue backgrounds. Attention span in here was as long as it took to read ten three word meaningless phrases.

Lucie Rie: Some pots.

Barbara Hepworth: Sculptures that were at least pleasing on the eye. Basically random shapes nicely proportioned in a variety of textures. At least they had titles like “oval form”, not claiming to be something they weren’t. Ticket also included entry to the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden and Museum, 5 minutes walk away where more of her work set in a garden actually seemed worth looking at.

Carol Bove: What seemed to me to be random items. What is artistic about an approximately 4” cube of what appeared to be coal placed on a plinth with a few bits of dust and black crumbs around it? (not sure if the dust and crumbs were intentional or had simply dropped off). My favourite piece here, and something I wouldn’t mind having in a living room if I had one big enough was a large piece of driftwood about 7ft long displayed vertically . She hadn’t made this, simply picked it up and decided it looked good. Is that art, or nature? Or simply being in the right place at the right time?


Katy Moran: Quite frankly – a mess. A room full of "pictures"(?) consisting of scribble, some with the artistic touch of a few bits of scrap paper stuck on them. Meaningless rubbish given meaningless titles- what is the point?

I am not against art – I know what Ilike and am also open minded enough to appreciate things that don’t particularly appeal to me when I can understand what the artist is trying to create or represent. I have been to the Saatchi gallery in London and stood in awe at some of the things I saw there. I also appreciate that not everyone likes the same thing, and some people will dislike things I like and vice versa.But my overwhelming impression of the whole experience here was "Why?"

I think the people in charge at St Ives are relying on the Emperor New Clothes Syndrome, if we claim to be an authority on the subject and tell the masses it is good, then they will believe it is good. Sorry, not me, as I commented to a friendly member of staff “I don’t get it, it’s just a mess”. She did try to explain the thinking behind some of the “work” but I noticed that she didn’t try to contradict my original statement

Tellingly, an hour later we were wandering around one of St Ives numerous retail galleries admiring some (I guess they would be called ) modern landscapes. “Now that’s art, not like that other rubbish” commented my wife. The guy running the place looked up with a knowing grin and said “You’ve been to the Tate haven’t you, we here that sort of comment a lot”.


  1. Ah yes. Modern Art. No need to go all the way to Cornwall. You can see the notorious Duvet Cover and other crappy works (literally) in Southampton Art Gallery. And you can pop-in before going to the next home-game !

    Assuming there is a next home game !

  2. Lucie Rie: Some Pot

    Perhaps that would have been more appealing?

    Sounds like we made the right choice when we drove right on by when we visited St Ives the week before!

    It's still a lovely place!


  3. It is ignorant old duffers like you who, quite frankly, should be banned from visiting Tate St Ives. What would you know about contemporary art? You are the dull, droning voice of narrow-minded middle England. Please stay in whatever suburban hellhole you have crawled out of (and your wife).

  4. What an "interesting" response gallerymole. Resort to insults when an explanation of what it is I'm not "getting" would be much more useful.

    "What would you know about contemporary art?"
    Nothing.Never claimed to. But that's my point. This is an exhibition open to and promoted to (and possibly paid for by, is the Tate a public body?) the general public, I shouldn't need to be part of a select "in crowd" to understand/appreciate/enjoy it.

    Art can take many forms. I know nothing about ballet, I would have no idea if a performance was technically good or not but if I ever watched one I'm sure I would be able to understand the story it was telling and appreciate the effort involved.

    I like ambient trance music. I hate thrash metal but I "get" where it is coming from and why others might enjoy it.

    I'm pretty sure I'm just responding to an internet troll, but if by some chance I'm wrong I would welcome anything that would enlighten me on the subject. After all as I said in the article I have an open mind


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