The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection at Tate Modern
This winter, Tate Modern has made the unusual move of putting together an exhibition of photography drawn solely from a private collection. The collection in question belongs to Sir Elton John who, it turns out, has a deep interest in art and particularly in photography. What becomes quickly apparent upon stepping into the exhibition is that the iconic singer-songwriter has impeccably good taste.
Attaching a celebrity tag to an art exhibition rings alarm bells: is this just another grasping attempt to pull in the punters? It’s likely that Elton John’s name will bring a new crowd through the door, but anyone expecting something mediocre will be deeply, and pleasantly, surprised. The 8,000-piece fine art photography collection is world-class, better than the holdings owned by many museums. The pieces he owns vary from early vintage 20th century works to cutting-edge contemporary images. However, the exhibition The Radical Eye focuses on Modernist photography from the 1910s to the 1950s, exploring a key era in the development of photography as an art form.
The exhibition strikes a delicate balance between following the evolution of Modernist photography and giving an insight into the unique collection and its owner. Works are grouped primarily to explore key Modernist themes. Highlights include Man Ray’s photographic portraits of other artists, which offer a complex interplay of artistic creation between sitter and photographer.
Elsewhere, the human body is explored, exalted and fragmented with radical close-up shots or unusual framing, which accentuate the compositional curves and angles of limbs or torsos. Included in this section are exceptional and rarely seen works such as Andre Keretsz’s Underwater Swimmer, Hungary (1917) and Ilse Bing’s Dancer, Willem van Loon, Paris (1932). Also of note is Dorothea Lange’s experimental documentary photography, including her famous work Migrant Mother (1936), which seems particularly poignant in the current political climate. Within each room, however, clusters of photographs are presented together as hung by John himself and his team, giving an glimpse into the private aesthetic tastes of the singer as a collector and the privilege he gives to certain works.
The exhibition gives a clear and engaging insight into how timeless artistic genres were reinvented through the camera’s lens during this era. Its combination of beautiful, ground-breaking work and careful curation makes The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection unmissable for any photography fan.
The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection is at Tate Modern from 10th November 2016 until 7th May 2017, for further information visit here.