Tory Historian's blog: Outraged by Tate Britain

Posted by Tory Historian Saturday, February 11, 2012 ,

Tory Historian has always found visits to Tate Britain, home of the superb collection of British art, intellectually stimulating and emotionally soothing. Not so, this afternoon. Most of it has been turned into an outpost of Tate Modern.

While the Clore Wing remains largely devoted to Turner, it now has an exhibition of Romantics, which intersperses paintings by artists who were more or less his contemporaries as well as modern artists who paint supposedly in the same vein. Whether Turner can be called a Romantic is a moot point but the idea of following British romanticism through is an intriguing one. TH, feeling a little tired for various reasons, decided to return to this huge exhibition some other time and returned to the main rooms to be stunned by the latest arrangement.

Tate Britain changes periodically the way it hangs the paintings, an idea that may have sounded better in theory than it has proved to be in practice. The latest decision was to devote almost all the main galleries to twentieth century British art, the later part of which, large and full of installations, ought to be in Tate Modern, where there is room for it.

The rest of the collection seems to have been secreted. There was on gallery, in which about thirty paintings from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century were hung in a rather shambolic order. This was described as the highlights of the historic collection. The Tate is supposed to show that historic collection not pick out a few examples from it.

There were three small "focused" exhibitions: a very good one of the Camden Town Group drawings, an interesting one of Rubens and Britain though that could have been bigger, and a completely nothingy display of odds and ends under the title of The Protestant Church after 1660. Small, "focused" exhibitions, successful or not, are of interest in conjunction with the large display of what is the glory of Tate Britain: British art from the 1500s to the present day, which cannot be seen at present.

To add insult to injury TH found an extraordinarily silly and unpleasant painting entitled Portrait of V.I. Lenin with Cap, in the Style of Jackson Pollock III, as well as a concrete bust of Stalin by Peter Peri, a Hungarian refugee, originally a constructivist and later a socialist realist. The bust was made in 1942 and is displayed without the slightest explanation. When TH was angrily relating this to someone, the question came whether Mao, the greatest of all mass murderers was there as well. As, having reached this display, TH stormed out of the gallery, the answer remains unknown.


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