Thursday, June 01, 2006

)> words drown i... <(

The idea was to try to have a words-free day today. Yesterday I had to abandon a critical piece I was working on (on J.H. Prynne's Wound Response, mostly, and some varieties of jetsam in its proximity) because I was, frankly, writing like a schoolgirl on a work experience placement at a tv listings magazine. And if you don't have your chops about you when you get down and fandango with Jeremy Jeremy Halvard Halvard Wetherby George duPrynne, you might as well pack up and go home. Boy, he can really make you look like a sissy.

I felt worded out, comrades; no fluency, no fun. So today was cleared for recuperation. (Obviously I'm breaking my antitextual curfew right now, but this doesn't count; besides, I very clearly haven't got my groove back yet.)

Day started nicely with a package from Sound323. If it wasn't for Sound323, and especially their secondhand stock by mail-order, I'd hardly be buying CDs at all these days -- which is funny, considering how long I held out against downloading music at all, on principle. (I'm not quite sure I remember what the principle was now, but it seems to have lapsed...) But it does make a difference, sometimes, how a thing is packaged and presented. Part of today's ration was The Sad Mac, a Stephan Mathieu thing from last year: and I think I would hear it quite differently if I hadn't read the notes and enjoyed the design. It's beautiful, inside and out: and of course I'm a complete signal-to-noise sucker for the sweetest moment on the album, where the track 'Tinfoil Star' (layers of processed viola) reoccurs in a second version -- viz., the original track re-recorded on a 1909 Edison 'Fireside' phonograph. You had me at hello, as folks used to say.

And then I wandered down to the South Bank to have a look at the new rehang of Tate Modern. On the whole it's been pretty well received and I was looking forward to it, despite having been one of the few persons on the face of the planet who quite liked, and was prepared to stick up for, the thematic organisation of the original hang. It's always seemed to me -- as a complete layperson, and I may well be simplifying this beyond belief... -- that art and art history are not the same thing: and while the narratives of art history, even with regard to work from as recently as ten or fifteen years ago, may now be hardening into some kind of authorized version, I'm not sure that those plotlines and determinations have any kind of a priori claim on our relations with art works. On the other hand, even a city like London is only ever going to have one Tate Modern, and to refuse to behave like an educational resource (in other words, like an instructional resource, through which a response to art can be imposed rather than elicited, and the prop notions of progress and individual genius can be endlessly -- and neurotically -- retraced) is bound to seem so wilfully anomalous that it can only encourage those who would wish to discern some kind of agenda. (Cue thunder, lightning, "bwah hah hah" etc.)

Anyway, so now we have timelines all over the building, just in case arguments need to be settled about whether post-painterly abstraction came before or after Viennese Actionism and so on. The four wings still have theme-y titles -- I particularly hate "Poetry and Dream", as if the two concepts were more or less continuous -- but the organization of works within the galleries is, on the whole, more coherent than before, largely because the thematic titles are not much more than decoys for various -isms. There's still not much sense of historical development, by way of trade-off, but the old in-fighting between works has been somewhat alleviated. There are some insensitive juxtapositions, but the effects of these are not always unwelcome: pairing Martin Creed and Carl Andre at the entrance to "Idea and Object", on the one hand, is silly -- the Andre becomes negligible because Creed's work always (and sometimes brilliantly) sits obnoxiously alongside pretty much anything; on the other hand, I'm quite pleased that there's a prominent (if unexceptional) Kounellis piece stealing focus from that drearily overexposed de Chirico, 'The Uncertainty of the Poet'.

Ultimately, the weaknesses that remain are, as ever, the weaknesses of the collection, and there's already enough bitching commentary about that in the world to cover the walls of the entire building to a depth of several inches, so I won't add any more. I mean, you know, if you like yer Surrealism, shout Wa-hayy!!! and dive in. And the gathering in one room of some keyMinimalist works is impressive, and will be even more impressive once half term is over. If you're looking for any kind of account of the importance of installation, video, performance..., meh, there's not a great deal to look at except the big ol' timeline.

Some of the smartest and warmest effects of the rehang are in the way your journey around the galleries is partly impelled by an attractive sense of what's beyond. Dan Flavin's always-stunning 'Monument for V. Tatlin' draws you in from three rooms away; and being able to look past Beuys and see a Jenny Holzer piece scrolling away, sort of over his shoulder, is lovely, as is the conversation between Thomas Schutte's funny and poignant United Enemies pieces and the Bacon and Bourgeois works in the next room down. Someone's really thought cleverly and quite wittily about these eyelines: which perhaps is something you can only really do after the first few years of watching the flow (or otherwise) of people around the building.

I'm less excited by this rehung Tate, but maybe I was becoming less excited anyway. Maybe I'm just not as excitable as I used to be. ...I'm hoping to get over to the big L.A. survey at the Centre Pompidou before it closes next month: I think that would push a button or two, it sounds terrific.

Anyway. Enough words for one wordless day.

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