I went to see the new “Altermodern” show today on it’s first day of opening at TATE Britain in London, UK.
I went with some trepidation. I’d read a pre-amble in the TATE magazine, and I have to say that I find the movement back to modernism is one that I find alarming to say the least. However, there’s a big difference between an idea and a show, which in this case turned out to be just as well.
I went into the main hall at TATE Britain and was distinctly disappointed by what I saw. The work was OK, but not great. Subodh Gupta’s saucepan tower in the shape of a mushroom cloud was quite spectacular, and I always have a soft spot for Mike Nelson, but the rest of it left me pretty cold.
However, I’d missed that there was another, main part to it that you have to pay to get into. It’s not very well signposted, and there’s no little hand-held leaflet guide to tell you where you are, but with a wave of my TATE members card, I swished in for free.
I was straight away confronted by Franz Ackerman’s profusion of colour that was strangely calming despite it’s luridity. Piles of disused flags and an empty cage signaling the escape from shackles of nationhood into a bright new global modernism. Yes, I get it.
However, before long I came to see the idea of Altermodernism as a conceit of the curator – an idea to hang a show on. He’s coined a term, but will it catch on? I hope not, but in any case I found that once I’d manage to detach and forget about the idea of altermodernity from the actual works I was looking, at the show became much more enjoyable.
The first few works perversely helped me do this. Olivia Plender & Joachim Koester’s works felt more like plundering the past than a trajectory for the future. Firstly in “The Hashish Club” the hemp-heads unite to remember halcyon opium-filled days, and then the work on the Kibbo Kift Kindred completes the appropriations.
Thank goodness for some humour in the form of Charles Avery’s work (especially “Untitled (Head of an Aleph)” ” I really enjoyed his new world, almost inventing a past and describing a present that never actually happened but should have. I thought the drawings were perfectly executed, and the stellar maps drew me in too.
For the chillout enthusiasts, my old mucker Darren Almond exhibited his moonscapes, and I was quite happy to collapse on the scatter cushions in Gustav Metzger’s LCD projections – Liquid Crystals projected and altered by the heat, a bit like lava lamps. More than a nod and a wink to the abstract expressionists who, of course, we tend to associate with modernism. Very good works all.
Walead Beshty Fed-Exed a load of glass boxes around the world packed with little protection. The resulting damaged cubes are shown. Raised a smile and some thoughts about travel and handling. Very engaging – like little people with their own story to tell.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself standing in what only can be described as a room full of vibrators. Shaking the floor and humming inside my head. The possibilities for innuendo are endless, but you will not think about that at all when you stand in that room. Spine tingling – literally.
Those are the works that stood out with some brilliance for me. Like all good shows (and it IS a good show) its one that I will need to return to many times, and I may like completely different works for completely different reasons.
But I guess the biggest obstacle of the altermodern idea for me is that if you’re saying that you’ve learned from the postmodernist critique, then why would you exhibit the majority of artists from OECD countries? It’s not exactly a record of the marginalised and at worst smacks of imperialism. And I suspect the “creolisation” that Bourriaud talks of as a part of altermodernism leaves no room for the poor or marginalised.
But then, I never like feeling that I’ve been “steamrolled”.