Tate Modern, 2nd floor exhibition Citizens and States.
One sees, without guessing: this or that image is actually more remarkable than the interpretation of cultural references can suggest. When artists carry with them universal wounds of further thought, the outcome suggests a dialogue between Citizens and States, according to which the art pieces themselves give a splendid performance to the public. In a way the 2nd floor group exhibition Citizens and States of Tate Modern –Blackfriars, London- is a summary of what the humanity has lived in the after war era, whilst unfortunately there are still people who dwell in hunger or/ and under fire.
The importance of the coexistence of many art pieces in this exhibition -not based on mere chance though- is the dynamic life of what has been woodenly defined as “multiculturalism”. Gathered here, these multi-exiled, strongly identified voices insinuate a perpetual reading between the lines, in city relations and political assumptions. It is to follow then a fascinating both political and personal adventure through over cool and distanced realism the arrival of which as artistic movement was marked around 1963, when art critic Sidney Tillim defined it as “New Realism”; later Irving Sandler focused on the term “New Perceptual Realism” in order to rename the new tendency emerged during that era.
On the road towards social awareness spectators start collecting impulses and first stop at the Monument of 1976 of Philip Guston (1913-1980). The disturbing quality of the painting keeps pace with his Jewish origin. Reconsidered under these headings, his creatures of disembodied limbs evoke the aura of the Nazi concentration camps and recall the cruelties of the holocaust. From this memoiristic art piece we move to abstraction, where the Construction, grey lines on pink ground of 1938 of Paule Vézelay (1892-1984), -whose real name was Marjorie Watson Williams-, reverses the standard process of seeing and interrelating things. Her career even with a non female name has thrown spectators a curve about how one confronts reality and expresses oneself in terms of space and movement.
Shortly after these art pieces the vision grows more precise and the realism more raw and disturbing. Art seen as a wound that demands political activism makes its appearance and counterbalances any intellectual resignation that constitutes just pluralism. The citizen of 1981-3 of Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) is a good example about how the orthodoxy of the state in relation to security issues can patronize people and exclude them from any special category status. A useful nugget of information on this issue is that Hamilton’s concern about IRA prisoners, which had certainly democratic roots, was aroused after seeing their ‘‘wall paintings’’ in such a way that found a synchrony between their story and Christian martyrdom.
This emotionally realistic impact reveals itself also through the Flag I of 2009 of Teresa Margolles (1963- ). It seems there is no way out, no easy alibi concerning the traces of blood coming from murders in Mexico due to the drug cartels that control smuggling routes to the United States.
On the other hand, The Worker’s Maypole, An offering for May Day 1894 (illustration by Walter Crane) of 2015 of Andrea Bowers (1965- ) depicts the necessity of political and civil rights and highlights the importance of their protection as universal legacy of 1789. However, according to the new triptych of socialization, solidarity and humanity, the semiological continuum could be described as ‘‘biosociety’’. Here, the notion of dynamic unity is clear as tends to become urgent in the same way homeless people seek paper boxes urgently to sleep at night. Consequently, the cardboard has a fundamental poetic function and seems that this art piece performs itself; it does not carry meaning verbally but in a more complex way, through its visual modality.
Last but not least, one visitor of the Citizens and States exhibition must see Joseph Beuys room as an engine of past deconstruction in the context of art, whereas this fluidity of meaning underlines the process of daily political life and direct democracy regarding personal contribution. This personal element is also depicted in the Five day forecast of 1991 of Lorna Simpson (1960- ). The art of portraiture acts intentionally as an ethnographic medicine against any conventions between black and white people.
*I had the chance to visit the exhibition in March of 2016.