A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance
November 14th 2012 through April 1st 2013
The line that separates a technical gesture from a poetically inspired action is complex and fascinating. Equally complex and fascinating is the exhibition, 'A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance', on view at Tate Britain until April 1st. Borrowing its title from David Hackney’s 1967 piece, its main intent is to explore the dynamic relationship between painting and performance from 1950 to present day.
The exhibition, curated by Catherine Wood, Curator of Contemporary Art and Performance at Tate Modern, is divided into two parts. The first half can be considered an historical survey of artists from the 50s to the early 80s, whose practices explored the extent to which the gesture of applying paint to canvas could be considered a performative action. Here, we find artists like Jason Pollock, Yves Klein, Cindy Shermann, Jack Smiths, a particularly beautiful work of Helena Almeida's, and an entire, encyclopaedic room of the most important works by Vienna Actionists.
In a thematic inversion, the second half explores how and to what extent paint can be seen as a trace of action. This action is situated not only in the body, but also in the gallery space which, here, approaches the contemporary idea of the ‘stage set’. Showcasing a number of recent large-scale installations, each room hosts a single artist from the late 70’s to present day. Their work, although developed through performance art, finds a way to rethink painting—from the Marc Camille Chaimowicz full-sized room modeled as the habitat of Jean Cocteau, to Lucy McKenzie’s imaginary room with trompe-l’oeil walls of faded gentility.
Incorporating key works by over 40 artists, the exhibition runs along a line of dialectic controversy in which oppositions are apparent from the first of the twelve rooms. The show begins with the spontaneous, horizontal abstraction of Pollock’s 1948 Summertime Number 9A opposing the vertical, quite figurative calculation of David Hockney’s A bigger splash. Walking through the exhibition space and looking at the brutal gesture behind Hermann Nitsch’s Poured Painting in one room, and admiring the living brushes of Yves Klein’s Anthropometries gracefully moving in the room immediately after, this intricate game of comparing oppositions becomes even more pronounced.
'A Bigger Splash' forces its visitors into a kind of crossed analysis without providing them with an answer to its core-question: did performance art change painting? Even the large-scale installations closing the tour, while showing the continued vitality of painting, do not give anything more than a sense of the performativity behind them. They don't actually showing how performance took place within them. Visitors can think of the gesture, but not see the action. This is the risk of an investigation around performance art without performances to accompany it.
Vanessa Saraceno is a freelance journalist based in London. She holds a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Art History and Heritage Management from IULM University of Milan. Over the past three years, she has worked with several art institutions and galleries in various communications roles. She also writes and runs an art blog: http://www.arthuntermag.comview all articles from this author