Altermodern at Tate Britain


Before i dedicate some blog space to the ARCO art fair that just ended in Madrid, i would like to squeeze in a couple of lines about the Tate Triennial which opened on February 3 at Tate Britain in London.

0ammatrol.jpgMarcus Coatesm Firebird, Rhebok, Badger and Hare 2008. © Copyright the artist, 2008. Photo: Photo by Jo Ramirez

Reviews from Brit mainstream newspapers were everything but overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I for one found the exhibition very energizing, exuberant and joyful. And how could i not? The curator of the Triennial this year is Nicolas Bourriaud, the French cultural theorist and co-founder of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, an exhibition space which has reconciliated many people with contemporary art.

Altermodern declares Postmodernism dead (in case you still had any doubt about that), and that a new form of art is emerging in the 21st century. Bourriaud christens it Altermodern! Altermodern, the ‘alternative modern’ is the product on non-stop communication, globalization and new forces that shape the way artists operate today.

If early twentieth-century Modernism is characterised as a broadly Western cultural phenomenon, and Postmodernism was shaped by ideas of multi-culturalism, origins and identity, Altermodern is expressed in the language of a global culture. Altermodern artists channel the many different forms of social and technological networks offered by rapidly increasing lines of communication and travel in a globalised world.

Will Altermodern bring Bourriaud the fame and admiration he earned back in 1998 with a book that coined Relational Aesthetics for art practices based on the inter-human relations they represent, generate or trigger? Probably not. Will crisis have an impact on or even put a stop to the Altermodern movement and give way to something different? Jury is still out.

0adeathofapreist.jpgDeath of a Priest, 2001. © Tacita Dean, courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

I wouldn’t spread my enthusiasm on everything i saw at the Triennial (damn! what were those dreadful animatronics? Do artists need to make animatronics?) but there were some great moments. On top of the list is The Russian Ending. Tacita Dean‘s series of photogravure etchings are based on postcards the artist found on a flea market. They are deeply tragic: ship wrecking, explosion, death, funeral, etc. The title of the series refers to early 20th century practice in Denmark to make different endings for films exported to the Russian and American markets; Russians responded well to death and disaster, while Americans favoured a happy ending. Annotated with handwritten “stage directions,” prints with titles like Ship of Death, The Wrecking of the Ngahere, The Tragedy of Hughesovka Bridge and So They Sank Her! are re-purposed as storyboards for disastrous finales of films that never were.

0ashipofdeath.jpgShip of Death, 2001. © Tacita Dean, courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

0minkethewhal.jpgThe Story of Minke the Whale 2001. © Tacita Dean, courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

(more images.)

The story has it that Charles Avery was thrown out of Central St Martins after just six months, and that the artist spent the ensuing decade pretending to be a 19th century explorer discovering an imaginary island. The Islanders emerges through made-up maps and landscape, sketches and sculptures of an imaginary population addicted to gin-pickled eggs and its cosmology and pantheon of gods. The island’s creatures are obviously far from bland. The Tate was exhibiting one of them: the Aleph, an imposing creature that looks like some hybrid between an elephant and a man who isn’t happy to be trapped in the skin of an elephant.

0afinhjj.jpgArtist Charles Avery puts the finishing touches to a sculpture. Photograph: Sarah Lee on The Guardian

0aaghjalep.jpgCharles Avery, Aleph Null Head and Installation of drawings 2008. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Tate Photography

Bob and Roberta Smith‘s colourful, faux-retro works are transported into a storage room (open to the public) and replaced by a new version each Friday.

iwishicouldhav.jpgBob and Roberta Smith, Off Voice Fly Tip, 2009. Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery. Photo: Tate Photography

One of the best installations is without any doubt Lindsay Seer‘s cardboard cinema modeled on Thomas Edison’s first film production studio Black Maria. What is screened inside the structure looks like nothing i’ve seen before. Extramission 6 (Black Maria) is an eerie docu-fiction exploring her childhood traumas and her desire to turn into a photo camera and subsequently a movie projector.

Altermodern runs through April 26 at Tate Britain in London.