London Art Reviews

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Migrations: Journeys into British Art at the Tate Britain

Portsmouth Dockyard (1877) by James Tissot © Tate

Migrations: Journeys into British art at the Tate Britain.

David Franchi – Tuesday, 21st February 2012

Spanning over 500 years, “Migrations: Journeys into British Art” gives a bright overlook about influence and contribution of foreign artist into the British art.

Tate Britain exhibition explores how British art has been shaped by migration. Featuring artists from Van Dyck, Whistler and Mondrian to Steve McQueen and Francis Alÿs, “Migrations: Journeys into British Art” focuses on the movement of artists and also the spreading of art and ideas in Britain.

Looking at Tate Britain exhibition it seems that before the fifteenth century British art almost did not exist. “Migrations: Journeys into British Art” is organised in a chronological order. While much of the works of the early periods shown are related to foreign artist settled in England, later ones are connected to artists who moved to the UK from the Commonwealth.

Beginning with works from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the exhibition will show that much British art from this period was made by artists from abroad, including Antwerp-born Anthony Van Dyck, the court painter whose famous portraits such as ‘Charles I’ outlines our idea of the British aristocracy of this time. The contribution of the Italians, for example Canaletto, is also important.

In this exhibition the Royal Academy of Arts environment is also investigated through its founder

Between the two my heart is balanced (1991) by Lubaina Himid © Tate

works (1768) of which almost a third were migrant artists active in Britain.

American artist Whistler and Sargent are the major artists involved in the extensive interchange of ideas between Britain, France and America in the late-nineteenth-century.

Another section brings together works of Jewish artists and the refugees who were sheltered in the UK during the Second World War, including Gropius, Mondrian, Gabo, Kokoschka and Maholy-Nagy.

Stateless conceptual artists in the 50s and 60s of the nineteenth century moved to the UK, particularly from the Commonwealth countries. Additionally, in the 60s London became an international hub for artist from all over the world. Some of them developed a radical subculture of experimentation and innovation. Those global citizens unbounded to any specific place were looking for an international language through the ‘dematerialisation of the object’. Black Audio Film Collective sought to disclose the possibilities of being both ‘Black’ and ‘British’ in the 1980s.

The big rooms of the last section about the ‘moving image’ show giant screening of video of recent work by contemporary artists. They use the moving image as a versatile tool for both documenting and questioning reality.

In over five centuries many transformation happened and it is now easier to settle down in UK and therefore contributing to the development of the British art. “Migrations: Journeys into British Art” examines how British art has been shaped by a long and intricate history of the movement of people to and from the country.

Railings (2004) by Francis Alys © Tate

It is also amazing to see such a kind of exhibition in this particular time when many, including MPs and members of the Government, are much criticising migrations and stigmatising foreigners for the many problems the UK has. Au contraire “Migrations: Journeys into British Art” shows that interchange and comparison are constructive tools you can use to grow. Art migrates like for example, languages, diseases and the alphabet, using trade, invasion or colonisation. Artists, as many other workers, are pushed out their home countries by famine, persecution, war or simply they hope to go where the work is. Art, as much other kind of sectors such as sport or finance, mirrors the society and its growth need through the mix of ideas and culture. It is possible to find nowadays in the UK and particularly in London with its more than 300 official language communities. Migration is an opportunity that it is possible to catch.

The exhibition is curated by a group of Tate curators headed by Lizzie Carey-Thomas (Curator, Contemporary British Art).

From 31st January until 12th August 2012.

At the Tate Britain, Pimlico, London.


This entry was posted on February 21, 2012 by in Museums, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , .


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