(Published on ARTSCLASH)

Last week, the Tate Britain unveiled a completely new layout to its permanent collection, titled A Walk Through British Art, and running in chronological order rather than the traditional thematic order. Curators hoped this would force works ‘into conversation’ with each other, showing how different styles and schools fought for supremacy at any one time – sort of like Gladiator but with more canvas and less skirts. If the works were in conversation, this is what they would be saying:

1. Literally nothing changed in art for 200 years.


I know, it’s a totally philistinic thing to say, but it’s true – ordering the paintings in time really highlights how little painting changes. Sure, the women might not have ruffs and lead-based makeup in the 1700s version, but apart from that, no differences. Landscapes are landscapes, Biblical scenes are Biblical scenes, horses are horses. Which means when change comes…

2. Change, when it does happen, happens bloody quickly!

Nan 1909 by Sir Jacob Epstein 1880-1959It’s 1909. It’s a sculpture of a woman by Sir Jacob Epstein. Yep, it looks like a woman. Then suddenly…

Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill' 1913-14 by Sir Jacob Epstein 1880-1959

WOAH EPSTEIN! It’s 1913, it’s all gone a bit Robocop….

This is the most exciting moment of the whole collection; when you cross the threshold from 1890 to 1910 and suddenly everything’s crazy and insane and brilliant and not about country horses and dukes, in fact, you could say…

3. The 20th Century was generally an amazing time for art.

tateAfter this rather staid start, everything gets very exciting. If the works were politely murmuring to each other before, then come 1900 the works are shouting “LOOK AT ME! AREN’T I DIFFERENT AND DARING?! What’s that? You’re made of the new material plastic? WELL I’M SO ABSTRACT I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT I AM. Deal with it…” Probably.

This really shows the genius of chronological layouts. You sort of forget that Henry Moore is working at the same time as Lucian Freud, that Richard Hamilton started as an abstract painter, that not all art of the early 20th century is vorticist and war-torn. Plus it means the Tate can really show its credentials as a sort of art greatest hits compilation, and can have Hockney, Freud, Hepworth, and Hirst in the same room. But what of the 21st Century? Well…

4. This decade’s been rubbish for art

10pm Saturday 2012 by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye born 1977After this constant incredibleness, the room displaying the most modern of their modern art is about as underwhelming as it can get, sort of like Heston Blumenthal following up a genius starter and main course with a Twix. I guess it’s tricky to predict what from the present day is going to be iconic in the future, but even I as a amateur culture blogger can take a fairly good educated guess that it’s not going to be any of these paintings…

5. But it might be their film…

Saying that, the film created to commemorate the rehang, Phantom Ride by Simon Starling (2005 Turner Prize winner, perhaps most famous for Shedboatshed, the shed that was turned into a boat which was turned into…) is a rather beautiful thing, and the first of what I’m hoping is a new art movement: the art rollercoaster simulator. Filmed and being shown in the Tate’s giant octagonal central room, it follows ‘invisible rails’, picturing iconic works taking its space in the octagonal room. As well as being visually stunning and a little bit like a pub quiz, it also asks fascinating questions about the role of art in the CGI age, and is well worth coming to see along with those fantastic 20th Century rooms…


One thought on “5 Things We Learned From the Tate Britain Re-Hang…

  1. Pingback: Mechanised mARTyrs: ‘Saints Alive’ at the National Gallery | ARTSCLASH

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