Final post (at least for 2011)

At this time of year we’re all conscious of the last posting date before Christmas (don’t worry, you’ve got till tomorrow to send out those Christmas cards). But at Tate Online, we’ve been anticipating the last posting date for another reason.

Gerd Winner  born 1936, From London Docks: St Katharine's Way

Gerd Winner born 1936, From London Docks: St Katharine's Way © Gerd Winner

We have been working on revamping the Tate website, and now that the launch date is approaching, we will be shutting down the blog so we can take everything over into the shiny new site in early 2012. This will be our last post of 2011. We will also be closing all the previous posts to comments so if you’ve got something you’ve been meaning to say all year, now’s your final chance.

It’s been a great year on the blog. Not only have we had curators blogging about the stories behind some of the shows on in 2011, we’ve also heard from Donald Hyslop about the changes happening at Tate Modern (with some excellent musical choices), had some great Tate Debates, visited the Venice Biennale, found out about 100 years of Tate Publishing and followed the Underworld adventures of Elena Batham on Twitter.

We’re really looking forward to what 2012 will bring us (and you). The whole site, including the blog, will be relaunched in the new year. In the meantime, you can still stay up to date and in touch by following Tate, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives on Twitter or liking Tate, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives on Facebook.

We hope you all have a great Christmas holiday and look forward to hearing from you in the new year!

How do you deal with an artwork that has a missing piece?

How do you deal with an artwork that has a missing piece? This is one of the questions I’ve been discussing with Rebecca Hellen, paintings conservator here at Tate. Rebecca works on conserving and restoring paintings for display and at the moment she is working on a painting that has thrown up a bit of a conundrum.

Donald Rodney’s How the West was Won was painted in 1982 while Rodney was only 21 and studying at Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham (now Nottingham Trent University).

Donald Rodney, How the West was Won 1982

Donald Rodney, How the West was Won 1982 © The estate of Donald Rodney

How the West was Won is an important work in the history of contemporary British art – it dates from a time when Rodney was working with a group of young black artists who become known as the Pan-Afrikan Connection, and later the Blk Art Group. As an influential collective (which included Eddie Chambers, Keith Piper, Marlene Smith and Claudette Johnson) they were producing and exhibiting works that engaged directly with social and political issues, particularly black political struggles, in the UK and globally.

As it looks currently, you see a stereotypical “Cowboy and Indian” in a desert scene. The grinning Cowboy is pointing at the Indian, while a line of text runs up the Cowboy’s back, reading “The only good injun is a dead injun”. On a closer look, you can see however, that there is something missing from the Cowboy’s hand.

How the West was Won, detail. Installed c1982

How the West was Won, detail. Installed c1982 © Estate of Donald Rodney

How the West was Won was exhibited in a Pan-Afrikan Connection show around this time, and photographed at that show, so we do know how it used to look and what is missing. In the image from 1982, you can clearly see the Cowboy is holding a red gun, and from the glue now left on the painting, you can also tell that this was not a flat, painted gun, but a toy gun fixed directly to the canvas.

Gun close up

Close up detail of the gun

The work was presented to Tate by the Donald Rodney Estate in 2007, and Rebecca is preparing the work for display in the forthcoming Migrations exhibition at Tate Britain. The gun has been lost for some time and as the work is nearly thirty years old, it has become a detective job for Rebecca to try to find out what sort of gun Rodney might have used and whether it is possible to find a toy gun that would be historically correct to restore the painting’s original form (and with it, some of its communicative power).

Alongside working with Rodney’s Estate and contemporaries to recall the work as it was at the time it was first displayed, she has started by analysing the trace the gun has left on the canvas – its shape, size and texture.

Diagram of the glue traces left on the painting

Diagram of the glue traces left on the painting

Talking about this, we have begun to wonder if there might be someone out there who would know specifically about the sort of toy guns produced before 1982, and therefore what gun it might have been that Donald Rodney used.

proposed gun image

Likely size and shape of the toy gun

Looking at these images, can you help us? Do you know if there were red short-nosed plastic or metal guns in production in the early eighties that looked like this? Or maybe Rodney painted the gun – do you know what guns might fit these dimensions – with a textured handle inset like that?

Rebecca (and I) would love to hear from you if you think you can shed some light on this mystery.

John Martin’s Underworld: Final Roundup

John Martin’s Underworld is an interactive story told through Twitter which began on 4 November.

Previously in John Martin’s Underworld

The story from this week…

Elena’s time was running out. She found new reserves of strength and with her followers’ help she surged forward, toward the centre of the Underworld London storm – which was Tate Britain.

She was held back by angels from the Plains of Heaven who wanted her to stay. She used the dragon teeth from her first battle to grow an army which allowed her to escape.

She entered the building and everything went black.

She awoke in a phone booth. Overjoyed to see people, cars and blue sky, she called her sister to find out what had happened. Expecting hysterics, she was surprised to find that her sister wasn’t worried about her at all. ‘John’s been looking after you,’ she said. And the gallery staff all seem to know her. She asked a member of staff and was surprised to hear that she’d been in the gallery every day for over a month, staring at the paintings. Her friends report that she’s been texting them as usual, going on about some new boy friend called John… she’s not sure what to believe, but she’s feeling inspired, and has gone to buy some paints.

Many thanks to everyone who got involved with this story. You might still be wondering why she was sent to Lewisham and had to work her way back up to Millbank, perhaps this will give you a clue.

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Tate Debate: Films, music, art – what has best depicted the apocalypse?

With the John Martin exhibition on at Tate Britain, we’ve been looking at apocalyptic visions.

John Martin, The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

John Martin, The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Signed and dated 1822, restored 2011. Tate

Writer Will Self chose an apocalyptic film season, including The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), The Towering Inferno (1974) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004). Curator of the show, Martin Myrone, wrote about how John Martin has influenced game design, while a Late at Tate Britain in November explored the apocalypse through performance and music. You’ve still got time to catch the screening of The Day After Tomorrow, but in the meantime, we’d love to know what you think has best raised a vision of the apocalypse.

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No Art Movement is an Island

In 1911, Tate published its first book.  100 years on Tate Publishing has released its first digital publication, the Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms app, a dictionary of art movements, groups, media, theory and technique.

When we first started to think about digital projects, the idea of a guide to modern art terms seemed an obvious choice. For many, the ‘isms’ and ‘artspeak’ around modern art are baffling so our thoughts were to give people definitions at their fingertips to help unlock the language and open up art for all to enjoy.  Unlike a book, an app has allowed us to build a structure that’s perfect for the material and cross-references are live links so readers can move between related terms easily.

Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms from Tate on Vimeo.

For me, these links are what makes modern art so interesting. Ever since impressionism, when artists established their own style and their own exhibitions in response to an academic art establishment, art has been in a continuous dialogue with the art world, with social and political events, and with the general mood of the period. No art movement is an island: a fact that is brilliantly demonstrated by the succinct texts in this app.

Take futurism and Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, for example.  Established in 1909, futurism celebrated the modern world of industry and technology and Boccioni’s striding, dynamic figure embodies this urge towards progress.  However, after the brutality of the First World War many artists rejected the avant-garde notions of futurism and other pre-war movements and started using more traditional and reassuring approaches, a phenomenon described as the ‘return to order’.

I’ve been lucky enough to oversee both the book and the app of Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms and have found the text a constant source of wisdom.  This app might help you expand your knowledge of postmodernist movements or teach you how to use ‘transavanguardia’ in a sentence.  But, most importantly, it will help understanding and give context to some of the most exciting and innovative art in the world.

Beth Thomas
Assistant Editor and Digital Coordinator
Tate Publishing

Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms app was produced by Aimer Media and is available from the Apple App Store for £1.99 for both iPhone and iPad. The app is based on a book of the same name published by Tate Publishing (2009), edited by Simon Wilson and Jessica Lack.

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Tate Debate: How much of the story behind a work do you need (or want) to know?

This year’s Turner Prize winner Martin Boyce has been working with shapes, pattern and forms inspired by French artists Jan and Joel Martel’s concrete trees, designed for a garden at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.

In this video from Tate Shots, he discusses the way the forms he derived from the trees have been incorporated in and informed his work.

Talking about Boyce in the Guardian, Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate said, “He has consistently reinvented the language of early modern art and he is deeply engaged in that. But he makes work that does not depend on an understanding of early modern art: it is beautiful and arresting in its own right.”

But does knowing that Boyce’s work is so thoroughly immersed in these specific early modernist forms and ideas make a difference to you as the viewer? Do you think you have the same connection with a work if you know nothing about it and the artist, or is your experience enhanced (or even diminished) by knowing about the processes behind a work? How much of the story behind a work do you need (or want) to know?

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