This review was originally published on Kultureflash in March 2009
Rodchenko and Popova were key figures in the avant-garde Constructivist movement that accompanied the tumult of the Russian Revolution, and as this densely-packed exhibition at Tate Modern demonstrates, they quickly transferred their initial exploration of this aesthetic in paint to a wealth of other media: constructions, theatre designs, fabric patterns, posters, advertising, photography, furniture, cinema and books. It’s a lot to take in, but the sheer extent and variety of the objects on display forcefully conveys the fervour and the excitement – artistic and political – that fuelled their project to connect art with life. Although the show is somewhat stolen by the first rooms of canvases crammed with dynamic interlocking geometries, such as Popova’s Painterly Abstract (1930), there are smaller gems to be discovered later on, such as Popova’s beautiful fabric designs, and the fascinating adverts produced when Lenin backtracked on his communism and opened up the markets to restricted capitalism. As the exhibition progresses, Lenin’s image, and that of an excitable Trotsky haranguing the masses, introduce a tang of sadness, a reminder that the revolution’s rhetoric of liberty belied the actualities of the political situation, and that Constructivism would itself become yet another casualty of the Stalinist era.
As I moved through the Cy Twombly retrospective at Tate Modern, my eye was caught by a series of 24 drawings called Poems to the Sea. Executed on small squares of white paper whilst Twombly was staying in Sperlonga, a tiny fishing village perched on the coast between Rome and Naples, these works are at once drawings, poems, and, it seemed to me, musical scores. Numbers march at intervals across the surface of the drawings – you can almost imagine the artist beating in time as he put them down – ‘one, two, three, four – five.’ Horizon lines merge into stave lines. Splodges of plaster and accented pencil marks – whilst conjuring up waves and spray – become a score for their own performance.
A piece written on a talk given by Cornelia Parker as part of Tate Modern’s Talking Art series in May 2008, originally published on the Tate Forum blog.
Cornelia Parker is obsessed with things: old things no-one wants any more, things salvaged from the dump, things unearthed in pawnshops, fleamarkets and dingy antique shops, things tarnished with a thick patina of accumulated history – things that have the ability to ‘make the hair on the back of your neck stand up’ with their sense of presence and past. Throughout her talk, the joyous and groundbreaking exhortation of the American Modernist poet William Carlos Williams – ‘say it: no ideas but in things’ – hummed through my mind. Parker may be working on the other side of the pond, decades later, and in a different medium, but like Williams she is attuned to and tremendously excited by the power that can be exerted by an old cup, a ring, some scrumpled up newspaper.