Monday, 13 February 2017

Concrete Poetry, Fluxus & The Situationists at Tate Britain

£4.75 for a piece of cake?! I ask you. That's Tate Britain's cafe for you. Very bourgeois and so, naturally, such prices reflect and, I might say, symbolise what's wrong not only with that cafe but the art world in general which, as you'll be aware, especially if you're British and particularly conscious of the class system, is overwhelmingly bourgeois, a situation which frequently prompts me to ponder, as I queue in the Tate members bar, no less, how many other members of the working class are in the room? 'So how come you're there?' I hear you ask. Because between us membership is affordable and it's a far cheaper way of seeing shows, specifically those one wishes to visit more than once, than not being a member. That aside, I confess, I'm terribly aspirational and wish to pass myself off as a member of the educated class rather than always eat or drink amongst my own who, on the whole, I am more likely to be able to extract a tooth from than a conversation about Robert Rauschenberg.

Task 1:
Go to a common cafe.
Ask everyone in there if they've seen the Rauschenberg show.
Repeat in a new cafe until someone says 'Yes'.

But we're not paying £4.75 for a piece of cake. Little did I know, however, that ten minutes after drinking a shared coffee (filtered, £2.50, over which LJ resumed her ongoing tirade against rip-off cafe prices whilst I smoked a roll-up, just to reaffirm my proper working class status) that we would be looking at what was to me a far more interesting exhibition than the Paul Nash one which lured us to Tate Britain in the first place..., Paul Nash. Being members we thought 'Why not?' I was familiar with his war paintings, of course and was prepared to be impressed by his others. Indeed I was, especially one landscape, the name of which escapes me, but he had rendered the sea wall and beach quite geometric. Others left me cold. Looking at them, I found little to admire and even thought 'These could be landscape paintings by any competent Sunday artist of the time'. Perhaps that's a terrible thing to say; even ignorant. I don't care. The interiors I liked even less. I wasn't impressed by any supposed 'Surrealist' qualities. Move on...

...we entered the Unit One room and I was struck by a painting to our left - 'That's amazing!' It was Ben Nicholson's 1933 (milk and plain chocolate). Nicholson was a member of the group, Unit One. By this time I needed a coffee. Having had one, we happened to pass a room, the sign to which announced: THE NIMAI CHATTERJI COLLECTION OF 20TH CENTURY AVANT-GARDE DOCUMENTATION. The what? Well, let's have a look...

...Christ almighty! What's going on here? So, dear reader, began a journey through the archive of Nimai Chetterji, who happened to be in touch with most of the key players in the Concrete Poetry, Fluxus and Situationist movements during the 60s. I could hardly believe my eyes...

...Paul Nash was forgotten. I had found something much closer to my heart. These 'works of art', I thought, would not be held in high regard by most of the mob attending the Hockney and Nash shows. After all, there's little painting involved, nothing framed...a lot of print...what's the point? How could one possibly explain the brilliance of a Fluxus box? 

Best not to even try, or wonder how one would try. These are things one 'gets' or doesn't, just like Concrete Poetry. Whether subverting language or the art world generally, these movements represent part of the great gesture against all that is pompous and bourgeois about Art... modes of expression, fresh pranks to play. And in the boxes on the wall across the room, along with some of Ed Ruscha's artist's books... out - here come The Situationists! There was even correspondence from Guy Debord to Chetterji, in French, unfortunately for me. By now I was mumbling incoherently, reduced to a child-like state of excitement. I had not seen many of these original documents. If you wish to see them, the exhibition is on until April 2 at Tate Britain. It's free too.

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