500 Years of British Art at Tate Britain
Tate Britain has completely rethought and rearranged its vast collection of British Art from 1540 right up to work made this year. Taking advantage of a rebuilding programme, it has remodelled galleries to create a circuit or walkway through time for the visitor to discover works as they were made, rather than as they have been written into art history. It has cut down on themed collections and arranging works according to art movements, and has simply chosen great examples of pieces that happen to have been made at a similar time.
This loosening of the grip on art history and over-curation allows some fascinating neighbours to sit together on walls and in our understanding, and to discover the connections for ourselves. Artists have always had a variety of concerns, yet we as viewers have become used to the way museums arrange our thinking for us – grouping together the art of a particular decade as if it was all about one idea.
There are great juxtapositions: a beautiful glowing painting by Howard Hodgkin, Rain sits in the 1980s room next to the YBAs (Young British Artists); giving a more accurate sense of the time by placing an older artist, Hodgkin, with what was then emerging, such as YBA Mark Wallinger’s grafittied political work Where There’s Muck.
It’s refreshing not to have all the Pre-Raphaelites together. Mixed in with all the other forms of Victorian paintings (works either alluding to a social realism or a romanticised view of the world), we can see that artists have always been negotiating the multiplicity of art and ideas of their time. Walter Sickert’s 1906 painting La Hollandaise looks stunningly modern and progressive, especially next to the later Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema’s A Favourite Custom (1909).
This democratisation away from art movements allows more space for individual artists, perhaps those whose work never fit neatly into one version of art history. Crucially, it allows more work by women artists who historically were excluded from what were usually brotherhoods. It’s fascinating that these works have been stored in the collection all along, now to be displayed and enjoyed.
With art favourites and new discoveries, stripping of over-explanatory text and an empowering perspective on art curation, Tate Britain rewrites British Art history with a light touch.
Photos: Allie Suwanrumpha
500 Years of British Art is a permanent collection at Tate Britain opening 14th May 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.