Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Dangers of Modern Art

This is a cautionary tale for anyone considering going to the Richard Hamilton exhibition at the Tate Modern. In case you didn't know, Hamilton (1922-2011) was a highly influential British artist, and regarded as one of the founding fathers of Pop Art. One of his most famous works is an installation called Fun House (1956). There's a jukebox playing hits of the era, and an actual fun house that you can walk through.

And that's where the problem started.

Accompanied by my good friend, Jane, I entered the fun house. There were four or five wheels you can spin with spirals on straight out of the playbook of an evil hypnotist, and the ground is all squashy and bouncy beneath your feet. Doris Day was singing. There are collages featuring some of the great film actors of the day and a gigantic picture from The Forbidden Planet. I love art that you can interact with. It was immersive and fun.

Then we left the room.

Everything was fine until we stopped walking to read the entry in the accompanying guide book. Then we both realised how dizzy we were! The swirly spirals and the wobbly floor had completely disorientated us. No word of a lie, thinking it about it again is making me feel a little ill now. Basically everything went downhill from there. I didn't just want to sit down, I wanted to lay myself down on the floor and have a little nap.

None of this was helped by the rest of Hamilton's art. The Fun House was early on in the exhibition. The next room had a number of images that almost looked like they ought to be in 3D. We had to give up on reading anything, because it was too nauseating. Trouble was, this lead to slight hysteria when we entered a room where every picture featured a big poo and/or a roll of Andrex. And everyone around us was taking the whole thing far too seriously, which was just making us laugh all the more.

We got to the end feeling slightly ill and possibly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I'd borrowed my parents' membership card, which was a relief, because if I'd paid good money to be made to feel that sick, I would not have been a happy girl.

We retired to the Members Room for a much needed pot of tea, some water, and fresh air, sitting on the balcony and looking out over the Thames. Then we went to see the Harry Callahan exhibition. He was an amazing photographer, who took a range of really interesting pictures of buildings, nature and his wife and was hugely influential in his native USA. It was small, it was free, and it restored my faith in modern art. Thank you, Mr Callahan.

That's Detroit (burlesque) 1951.

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