A triumphant reinvention - Modern Art and St Ives, Tate St Ives, review
Source:The Telegraph Author:Mark Hudson Date: 2017-10-13 Size:
What a difference a room makes. Five years and £20 million in the making……

The building project has doubled the space for showing art inside the gallery, which was originally built in 1993, adding almost 600 square metres of galleries Credit: Matt Cardy

What a difference a room makes. Five years and £20 million in the making, Tate St Ives’s long-awaited new extension adds only one new space. Admittedly it’s a handsome, sky-lit 500 square-metre room that can be divided into smaller spaces. But it has made such a difference to the whole experience, and goes a long way towards resolving tensions that have dogged the gallery since it opened in 1993.

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The original Tate St Ives simply wasn’t big enough to cater to its two competing functions: to tell the story of St Ives as a mid-20th century modernist mecca (as most seemed to want), and to provide a world-beating showcase for cutting edge contemporary art (as the curators want). Hence the need for the new extension, and it succeeds far better than I’d dared hope.

The danger was that the new space, catering to temporary exhibitions, would dominate attention, while the “art that made St Ives famous” in the old galleries would feel a tired add-on.

Credit: Matt Cardy

In fact, the St Ives story has been given a shot in the arm by new permanent displays, Modern Art and St Ives. Rather than wheeling out its greatest hits again – the iconic works by the likes of Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth plus Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon and their fellows – the town’s development as an artistic centre, with many artists arriving in flight from the Second World War, is expertly linked to developments in the rest of the world, giving a much broader sense of the town’s artistic significance.

The myth of St Ives’s uniqueness, a place where the Cornish light and craggy landscape generate art almost of its own accord, is debunked in favour of a more international story, in which Hepworth and Nicholson brought modernism with them in the form of Naum Gabo, the great Russian constructivist, and great Europeans such as Piet Mondrian. The succeeding generation threw out feelers to abstract expressionist New York. So we see much-loved St Ives works such as Lanyon’s furiously gestural Porthleven and Roger Hilton’s exuberant nude Oi Yoi Yoi alongside Picasso, Matisse, Rothko and de Kooning in a way that feels completely convincing.

This revamped narrative leads organically into Rebecca Warren’s monstrous gloopy totems that provide the first exhibition in the new space. Warren drew attention in the Nineties, with messy, handcrafted sculptures that looked abstract, but were full of voluptuous female body parts. A centrefold mash-up view of the female body, with playful digs at sex-obsessed male artists such as Helmut Newton.

All That Heaven Allows by Rebecca Warren Credit: Tate Gallery

The works here, all exhibited for the first time, are less obviously figurative. Clay cast in bronze and painted, at a glance, looks like children’s pottery blown up 9ft high. The human resonance in their haphazard masses brings to mind great alpha male artists, which presumably creates the link to the humanistic modernism of the St Ives tradition. Yet these quasi-figures sport whimsical pink bows moulded into their surfaces, puncturing the pomposity of the heroic male view.

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If Warren’s work might sound like a clever, but slightly facile satire on male artistic vanity, there’s a vigorous, sensuous handling of materials, and a mystery and humour to her work that demands further exploration. All of which makes her show (rating: * * * *) a more than worthy element in the triumphant reinvention of Tate St Ives.

[Editor] 张艳

    Artintern