The Tate Modern

It was to the Tate Modern today. I’d never been before, and beyond a vague awareness of it being a ex-power station had little idea what to expect. The directions from Southwark tube said ‘follow the orange lamp posts’, so first impressions were good.

We were there with the full-time students, who were interesting in that they all looked distinctive. Much more so than us mature students, the vast majority had a particular look they’d clearly cultivated above and beyond their ‘natural’ image, be it in their hair, clothing, or whatever. Which I thought was cool. We were given an exercise to separate into groups, head to a particular gallery and choose four pieces we found interesting, then give a short presentation to everybody.

Our gallery was ‘Material Gestures’, a fairly abstract area (roughly) devoted to painting and sculpture from the 40’s and 50’s. We walked around in a group and I had trouble adding to the conversation. In fast moving discussions it’s usually necessary to express opinions succinctly, and I couldn’t. I was quite happily holding three contradictory opinions about the same piece, depending on which context I was using. A Jackson Pollack painting didn’t hold much immediate appeal, but is clearly interesting in a historical context and I liked its inherently subversive style. But did I like it overall? Not a valid question. Some of the others were able to come to conclusions about whether they liked something, but most of the time I couldn’t – it was more complicated than that. I also found it interesting to observe my own psychological reactions to people’s opinions – sometimes I’d be inclined to like something simply because a few people said they disliked it, but this could change or completely reverse depending on the people and whether I’d agreed with them previously. Basic art stuff, I’m sure, but I’m new at this, give me a chance 🙂

I will, however, posit Andrew’s Law: any discussion of art, given long enough, will tend towards Tracy Emin’s bed. Furthermore, ‘long enough’ will probably only be ten minutes.

After a quick sandwich the groups described their chosen pieces in a series of talks somewhat marred by building work, the wind and helicopters. One Coke later a few of us headed back to the gallery to check out all the other areas. It’s full of cool stuff and, later, became the first art gallery to remain interesting when I was alone. I particularly liked the surrealism, and discovered the existence of a movement called ‘Vorticism’. A video of ants carrying away discarded confetti from a Brazil street carnival was disappointing, however – pretty as it was, the scientist in me demanded to know what happened next: did they eat it, abandon it, build a techicolour ant god from it?

I think the secret, for me, is not to take it seriously. The grandeur of the descriptions would have you think they were era-defining, world-shattering, life-and-death towers of artistic brilliance. Crap. Cubism might have been revolutionary, but it’s still just a method of expression in a world full of them. I used to instinctively rebel against such attitudes, but today I automatically took it with a pinch of salt and the genuinely interesting aspects immediately made themselves clear. Cubism actually is fascinating, and I learnt a huge amount overall.

Once the gallery closed I wandered across the bridge to St. Paul’s – another place I’ve never visited before – then in a loop and along the South Bank to Westminster. I think I’m going to like being around London.