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August 16 2012

Unilever ends £4.4m sponsorship of Tate Modern's turbine hall

Search on for new sponsor while hall closes during construction of £250m extension at Bankside gallery

Unilever has ended its sponsorship of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall annual commission that has produced some of the London gallery's most memorable exhibitions.

Tino Sehgal's These Associations, the first live performance piece in the former Bankside power station, will be the final work in the Unilever-sponsored series, which has attracted almost 30 million visitors over the past dozen years.

The £4.4m sponsorship deal with Unilever, has led to 13 commissions, including Bruce Nauman's soundscapes, Olafur Eliasson's huge, yellow, artificial indoor sun The Weather Project in 2003-04, which saw visitors stretch out on the floor of the vast space to bask in its glow, and Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth in 2007, which featured a crack running the length of the hall. Some commissions have been aquired for the gallery's permanent collection, including the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds, although it bought only a tenth of the 100m porcelain seeds, all individually sculpted and painted by Chinese craft workers, shown in the 2010 exhibition.

The current show, in which participants stop and engage visitors with intimate, personal stories, closes on 28 October.

The Turbine Hall is due to temporarily close next year to enable construction of the gallery's Herzog & de Meuron-designed extension. The project, which is planned to cost £215m in total, is due for completion by 2016 – delayed from its previously projected opening of this year.

The first phase of the extension, the £90m performance art and video installation space called the Tanks, opened in July.

A spokeswoman for Tate said: "Due to the building works at Tate Modern, there will not be a Turbine Hall commission in 2013. We will start discussions with other companies about the sponsorship of the Turbine Hall commission from 2014 onwards.

Unilever, whose brands include Pot Noodle and PG Tips, will continue as a corporate member of Tate. But the company said it is planning a change of direction in its sponsorship programme, which is more focused on sustainability and the environment.

Other prominent Tate sponsors include Bloomberg, the business and financial news organisation, and, more controversially, the oil company BP. The Tate received £45.1m in public funding last year, and raised an additional £67.9m. Its 100,000 members contribute arbout £3m per year. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Snap happy: photography to look forward to

From an ambitious survey of 1960s-70s photography in London to Kohei Yoshiyuki's controversial work in Liverpool and Amsterdam's Unseen Photo Fair, there's a lot to see

August is a quiet month for photography shows, so here's a preview of some of the exhibition highlights for the next few months.

The most anticipated London show is surely Tate Modern's ambitious double header William Klein/Daido Moriyama, which opens on 10 October. Taking the cities of New York and Tokyo as its starting point, the show contrasts the approaches of two pioneers of impressionistic urban photography. It considers the influence of Klein's seminal 1956 book, Life Is Good and Good for You in New York, on Japanese photography, and Moriyama in particular. The prodigiously productive Moriyama was a founder of the radical Provoke movement in Japan and, alongside previously unseen vintage prints, the exhibition explores photography's role in the representation of protest movements and civil unrest. This is an ambitious show that will be a chance for many of us to see lots of Moriyama's images outside of book form for the first time. I, for one, cannot wait.

The other big London exhibition is the Barbican's group show, Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s, which opens on 13 September. This survey show reflects on the radical cultural shifts that took place around the world during the two decades. It shows work by well-known names such as William Eggleston, David Goldblatt, Boris Mikhalov and Bruce Davidson alongside the likes of Graciela Iturbide, Shomei Thomatsu and Raghubir Singh. Iturbide's work was one of the highlights of last year's Rencontres d'Arles and Thomatsu is arguably Japan's most influential postwar photographer, so this show promises to be intriguing, if only for the range of styles on display from a seemingly disparate bunch of innovators.

In November, the Victoria and Albert Museum hosts Light from the Middle East, the first major show of contemporary photography from the region. This intriguing exhibition brings together 30 artists from 13 different countries, including Abbas, Yousssef Nabil and Shadi Ghadirian. I am most looking forward to Newsha Takavolian's provocative series Mothers of Martyrs, which may divide opinion, but is undeniably powerful in its evocation of belonging, belief and mourning.

Elsewhere, Amsterdam hosts the first international Unseen Photo Fair from 19 to 23 September, which will feature previously unexhibited work by emerging photographers. The aim is to give "new photography the platform in deserves" and, to this end, more than 50 galleries from around the globe will be showing work from their most promising new talents. Forty lucky visitors have already been given €1,000 each to spend on photography courtesy of the Dutch cultural lottery. There will be work for sale by the likes of Alex Prager, Pieter Hugo, Alessandra Sanguinetti and Richard Mosse. A place for the curious as well as the committed collector to look at – and buy – photography. Plus, it will be interesting to see just how far the galleries go in interpreting the definition of Unseen.

Also in September, as part of Liverpool Biennial, the Open Eye gallery presents two controversial series by the Japanese photographer Kohei Yoshiyuki: The Park and Love Hotel. Both investigate the seedier side of sex – and both precipitated furious debates in Japan about the blurred line between reportage and voyeurism.

The Park, already a cult photobook, is the end result of Yoshiyuki's participation in the nocturnal goings-on in Shinjuku's Chuo Park in the early 1970s, when he photographed voyeurs who lurked in the bushes to spy on couples having furtive sex on the grass. The images in Love Hotel were taken in 1978 from sex tapes made by clients of one of Tokyo's infamous book-by-the-hour hotels. Both series are grainy and indistinct, but undeniably evocative. And provocative.

In London on 12 October, the Photographers' Gallery presents a long-overdue retrospective of the Irish-born photographer Tom Wood, who has been working for the last 25 years in and around Merseyside and Liverpool. He also shot the unforgettable Looking for Love series in a "disco-pub" in Chelsea Reach in London in the 1980s. His book Photie Man – the name given to him by the kids he photographed on Merseyside – is the best introduction to his work, which skirts street photography, portraiture and reportage, but cannot really be classed as any of them. Great to see the work of a singular photographer who doesn't fit in neatly to any tradition being celebrated by the Photographers' Gallery.

The fifth edition of the Brighton Biennial takes place from 6 October to 4 November in venues across the city. It's titled Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space, and will feature artists including Omer Fast, Julian Germain, Trevor Paglen, Jason Larkin, Corinne Silva and Edmund Clark, whose project, Guantánamo: If the Light Goes Out, is shortlisted for this year's Prix Pictet Prize. The winner is announced at London's Saatchi Gallery on October 9, and a show of the shortlisted artists runs there from 10-28 October.

Finally, and staying in London, the Taylor Wessing Photographic Prize Exhibition is at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November to 17 February 2013. As one of this year's judges, I can't say much more about it at present, but will be commenting on it from the inside when the shortlist is announced in September. Watch this space.

Now see this

From 18 August, Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff is showing Encuentro by Irish photographer Maurice Gunning. It focuses on the Argentine-Irish community in Buenos Aries, descendants of the original immigrants that arrived there in the 1800s. Gunning's poetic, fragmentary style is perfectly suited to the kind of visual storytelling that draws on memory, text and longing to at once evoke the past and the present. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Tate Modern's waste of space: why won't interactive art leave me alone?

Being interrogated by a psychic in Tate Modern's new underground art space, The Tanks, was not my idea of fun. Shouldn't art be a contemplative, personal experience?

I've just been interrogated by the Stasi in a concrete bunker somewhere beneath Berlin. I discovered that privacy means nothing. I recognised the pathetic, delusory nature of bourgeois freedom.

Then I went for a cup of coffee, assiduously avoiding being accosted by any lurking art enactors on my way through the Turbine Hall.

Oh look, I am just not the right audience for the live art programme in Tate Modern's new space The Tanks. When someone asks me questions as part of an interactive artwork, I feel as reluctant to engage as I do when a computer cold calls my home phone. Leave me alone! – was my barely restrained reaction as I sat being interviewed by a psychic in an austere subterranean concrete space as a participant in an artwork by Jon Fawcett.

Six psychics sit at plain wooden booths as part of Fawcett's contribution to the new Undercurrent series of live events at The Tanks. Psychics! It sounds on paper like an underground circus with smoke, crystal balls and tarot readings. But although my interviewer assured me she is a trained psychic, what she did was ask me a series of questions about my job and interests, how honest I am, my views on politics, economics and the nature of power. It was a questionnaire that started in the banal and tried to touch on larger themes. Then I was invited to give contact details to continue the "screening process".

It's probably a work that gets richer the more you put into it. If you get in the spirit, it might be fun. But why should I?

Sitting in a cubicle being interrogated, albeit politely, in the name of art confirmed my worst fears about The Tanks. What a fantastic art space! What a great gallery this would make for the Tate's Rothkos. But instead it is dedicated to live art, performance, installation and film works, with lots of interaction thrown in.

Art should be a contemplative, personal experience. It should leave us free to engage on our own terms. The idea that interaction is good for us is patronising and treats us as lazy-minded idiots who must be prodded like cattle in order to respond. Somehow, if I sit answering inane questions about politics from a psychic, that is supposed to be more active and real and meaningful than if I sat for an hour looking at a Rothko.

Can I go and see the abstract paintings now, please sir? I've done my interactions.

Undercurrent continues until 27 August, with artists or entities, including Orange Dot, W Project and Isys Archive, who have worked with Tate Young People's Programmes. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 02 2012

London arts venues report mixed fortunes during Olympic Games

London 2012 Games causing low turnout at British Museum and West End theatres but National Theatre and BFI report boom

Despite the eerily deserted streets of central London, arts and entertainments bosses are reporting very mixed fortunes during the Olympic Games. Some have seen visitor numbers plunge since the Games started, such as the British Museum where visitor numbers are down by 25% and some West End theatres down by a third, but others including the National Theatre report business as good as last year, with near full houses every night.

Although box-office figures have not yet been compiled, anecdotally many venues report that business is picking up this week as Londoners realise there are bargains to be had, and that travel – after warnings of transport chaos initially scared people into staying home – has so far been easier than before the Olympics.

Terri Paddock, editor of the Whatsonstage website, said many of their posts are reporting empty streets, and theatres surviving by heavy discounting and last-minute sales. "I live in Lambeth, work in Tottenham Court Road and am walking through the West End throughout the day and evening. I can tell you personally that I have never seen it so quiet during my 20+ years living in London," she said.

The British Film Institute is on track for a record month, with the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises sold out for the next six weeks on their giant Imax screen, and at its South Bank cinemas spectacular advance sales for its season of every Hitchcock film. "We are forecast to exceed target for attendance during the month," a spokeswoman said.

However at the British Museum, normally a heaving mass of overseas visitors in August, visitor numbers are down 25% on July/August last year, and there are plenty of tickets available on the day for the major exhibition, Shakespeare: Staging the World – which was expected to be one of the blockbusters of this summer. "We know this is the general picture from speaking to other venues," a spokeswoman said. "We've very deliberately scheduled the Shakespeare exhibition to run on to 25 November, and we're expecting a very different picture after the Olympics and when the schools go back. It's actually a really nice time now to visit cultural attractions, without the usual crowds and it's so easy to get around in London."

In stark contrast, at the National Theatre it has been standing room only on many nights for all their shows, with the starriest, Simon Russell Beale in Timon of Athens – traditionally regarded as one of Shakespeare's least appealing plays – selling out for almost all shows, and 90% sold for all the Olympics dates. George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma is doing least well, but has still already sold 60% of available tickets for the same dates.

A spokeswoman said the bulk of ticket sales are to their regulars in London and the south-east, but sales to overseas visitors wandering in on the day are healthy too, and all the free activities in and around the building on the South Bank are very well attended.

The Society of London Theatres, representing 52 theatres mainly in the West End, said numbers are picking up this week, compared to last week when many had banks of empty seats to rival any of the Olympics venues. They also report that people are recognising there are bargains to be had: business is brisk at the TKTS discount ticket booth in Leicester Square, operated by the society. Ticket sales for the Kids Week promotion, now expanded to the whole month of August, which offers free or heavily discounted tickets to under-16s accompanied by a full paying adult, are well ahead of last year – 100,000 tickets have already been sold, compared to 70,000 for the whole promotion last year.

The Tate Modern gallery has been on a roll this summer, with massive publicity for its new Tanks underground space, a string of new exhibition openings, and many of the Festival 2012 events happening around it on the South Bank. However a spokeswoman said that although the place is still buzzing, ticket sales are down for the charging exhibitions. Further down on the opposite bank Tate Britain – not helped by its main restaurant closing until next year for renovations – has also seen a sharp drop in ticket sales.

At the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, which would normally expect 20,000 people a day at this time of year, and long queues outside the gates before opening time, staff say they are "still busy, but noticeably quieter". A spokeswoman added "it makes it a really fantastic time to visit". The Museum of London also reports visitor numbers well down, and suspects that their mainly family audience was put off by the warnings of transport problems. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 26 2012

Tino Sehgal, participatory art and the Booker prize: a week in the arts

Who's on – and off – the Man Booker longlist, varying responses to Tino Sehgal's new Turbine Hall installation and the Twitter debate about who should be paid in participatory art

The Man Booker longlist – sans Tremain, Lanchester, Amis, McEwan, Pat Barker, Banville, and, most surprisingly, Smith, was announced. Gaby Wood on the Telegraph, who was a judge on the much-criticised prize last year, welcomed the fact that the longlist supports "ambition and experiment". Justine Jordan of this parish, though bewildered by the absence of Zadie Smith (and yes, she has read it) praised the list's "eccentricity and invention". (When pressed in person she suggested that if you're going to read one book on the list, aside from the one you already have – the Mantel – it should be Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil. I'm also hearing from early readers that the Will Self is very good.)

• The new Turbine Hall installation, These Associations by Tino Sehgal, opened. I wrote a report on the work, in which participants approach members of the public and tell them a story about themselves, and Adrian Searle gave it a really enthusiastic, five-star review. Jonathan Jones offered a view on the fact that there are no official photos allowed of Sehgal's work. Alastair Sooke in the Telegraph was less enthusiastic, saying: "There is still a whiff of artifice about their stories, which feel polished and rehearsed."

• There was an interesting piece by Claire Bishop on the Guardian's comment pages about the nature of participatory art, which fed into something that had kind of been bugging me regarding what Sehgal had been saying at the press conference about anarchy and crowds and suchlike: his work is, of course, highly organised and controlled in one sense, presenting a highly wrought structure for the human interactions to take place within. Bishop addressed this. Sehgal's pieces, she wrote, "like so much other participatory art under neoliberalism, serve a double agenda: offering a popular art of and for the people, while at the same time, reminding us that today we all experience a constant pressure to perform and, moreover, this is one in which we have no choice but to participate". I sort of agree with her; on the other hand, Sehgal's work is such an elegant rebuff to the idea of monumental sculpture and such a fascinating way of looking at crowds versus individuals (let's face it, the experience of Tate Modern is usually about the individual (oneself) trying to have a moment with another individual (an artist) despite the hordes, that I'm still inclined to like it.

• This leads me to another debate about participatory art: who should, or shouldn't be paid? The "interpreters" in the Sehgal piece are not professional performers but are taking part in the piece in their free time. They are working in strict four-hour shift patterns with breaks, and paid between £8 and £9 per hour – "a matter of respect", Jessica Morgan, the Tate curator said to me. I suspect it is also a matter of good fortune, since the Tate has its Unilever sponsorship to help pay for this to happen all day every day until the end of October. But, what if you are producing You Me Bum Bum Train? Here the performers are not being paid, as Laura Barnett reported, and Equity is not pleased. It's clear that the blurring of boundaries between the audience and the performers in such works hits a bit of a nerve; are the structures of traditional theatre, including the union, fitted to tackle this kind of experimental work? Marcus Romer, artistic director of Pilot Theatre, wrote a blog arguing that performers always ought to be paid. This came out of an interesting discussion on Twitter, in which that view was challenged by Andy Field, for whose Forest Fringe performers and theatre-makers have worked for free. A flavour of his tweets on Bum Bum: "They're not working, though are they? It's not a 3-month internship or three weeks of rehearsal. You do it in your spare time."; "And what about people that volunteer to work [with] Spencer Tunick? Or Nic Green? Or who run with the Olympic torch?"; "I'm suggesting there's a difference between the demands and expectations of an actor in a play and a performer in Bum Bum."

• It's almost a month now since the Simón Bolívar Orchestra of Venezuela mambo'd out of town. The debates it raises in Britain go on. A piece in Classical Music magazine was highly critical of the adulation that the Sistema receives on these shores. Marshall Marcus wrote a rejoinder on his blog. Perhaps the most penetrating piece, however, was by cellist and former Maestro judge Zoë Martlew. In several respects, she nails what's going on: she exposes the poor quality of many music-education projects in the UK and, despite her own clearly expressed scepticism at elements of Dudamania, she identifies what's good about the Sistema. "They didn't get there via PC education projects. They have achieved excellence by sheer hard work from a young age combined with an absolute love of the music they play instilled by a fully funded training system." She adds: "I find it supremely ironic that [the Simón Bolívar Orchestra], trained (in part) by volunteers from my own state-funded music generation, is now invited back here to light the classical music fire in the generation Thatcher lost."

What I'm reading

Elanor Dymott's debut novel Every Contact Leaves a Trace. It is very, very engrossing, a kind of fragmentary literary thriller set, in part, in Oxford. But it is much cleverer and more nuanced than that description suggests (the university setting is not just for colour, but becomes thematically active as the place where knowledge is sought and tested). Highly recommended as pacy holiday reading that's also deeply thoughtful and very smart. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 24 2012

Tino Sehgal's you-had-to-be-there moment

Live art thrives on mystery, so Sehgal made a smart move in banning press photographers from his latest installation

You had to be there. One day in 1971 a young artist called Chris Burden got a friend to shoot him in the arm. This famous moment of live art survives as a legend, a myth. It has something impossible about it. Yet it happened.

You had to be there again in 1972 when Vito Acconci concealed himself in a New York art gallery and masturbated, while his muttered fantasies about the gallery visitors were relayed on loudspeakers.

I have no idea why Tino Sehgal banned photographers from the press view of his live artwork in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall this week. But it's a smart move. Live art and performance art thrive on legend and hearsay. Their great moments always seem to have happened yesterday, when the perfect audience met the perfect provocation to produce a moment that can never be repeated.

You just had to be there.

As it happens, the two legendary performances I mention above are both documented by photography and even video. But the old 1970s pictures and videotapes are themselves enigmatic and tantalising. They create mystery instead of destroying it.

No doubt there will be filmed and photographed records of Sehgal's work too. But there's a huge difference between amateurish images, or artists' carefully contrived means of recording their work, and the glittering lights of the mass media. The TV and newspaper attention an event at the Turbine Hall is guaranteed to get is of the kind that can easily swamp any sense of mystery. So Sehgal is cunning to preserve the unknown.

Even the grand spectacle of the Olympics opening ceremony is subject to the overwhelming power of modern communications. At a rehearsal in the Olympic stadium this week, director Danny Boyle implored the invited audience to secrecy – although, if he was totally obsessed with keeping the details of his "surreal" (#savethesurprise) vision secret, he might have been better off not inviting anyone at all. Cast and audience are apparently mostly saving the surprise, although I can't wait to see the giant animatronic Kenneth Williams re-enacting the "Frying tonight" scene from the 1960s film Carry on Screaming.

Olympic cermonies are destined to be seen by the whole world, but performance art is classically seen by just a handful of people. Events such as the first stagings of Paul McCarthy's sauce-spattered happenings thrive on their status as one-off wonders that nearly everyone missed. The whole history of live art is a history of those great lost moments. In his book Lipstick Traces, the critic Greil Marcus brilliantly evokes the original Dada cabaret in Zurich during the first world war. He makes it sound like a moment of pure revolutionary madness, an electrifying revelation from the eye of modernity's storm. For Marcus, this elusive, part-imagined moment becomes a spectre haunting modern culture, reappearing, he argues, when the Sex Pistols took the stage in 1970s Britain. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Apps Rush: The Unilever Series, Bing Get MeThere, SoFit, Goldstar Savings Bank, Jurassic Park Builder and more

What's new on the app stores on Tuesday 24 July 2012

A selection of 13 new and notable apps for you today:

The Unilever Series at Tate Modern

London's Tate Modern has launched an official app for its 13-year "Unilever Series' of installations, "from Olafur Eliasson's sun to Ai Weiwei's carpet of sunflower seeds". That means more than 250 photos and 12 videos, as well as articles by curators and artists, and some of the early sketches for each exhibit.

Bing Get MeThere

Microsoft has launched a London travel app for iPhone using its Bing brand, promising "true door-to-door directions using Bing maps and live tube updates". Favourite journeys can also be set up for quick access.


SoFit is the latest social fitness app (hence the name, presumably), which awards points every time you exercise. It promises real-life rewards for this: "exclusive products from your favorite brands; downloads like music, videos and games; as well as fundraise for the causes you care about".

Goldstar Savings Bank

This iPad app wants to teach children about financial basics, without making it dry and boring. A tall order, but Goldstar Savings Bank may just have nailed it: the idea being it's an app for children to record their savings and earn money for household chores, in order to buy rewards.

Jurassic Park Builder

The latest family-friendly brand to spawn its own freemium game is Jurassic Park, with this new iOS game from Ludia. It follows the Smurfs' Village / FarmVille template with players building their own parks, buying virtual bucks through in-app purchases to fund it. $99.99 IAP in a game that's likely to appeal to children? Hmm. The game is US-only for now.
iPhone / iPad


Assistant is the latest Siri-like voice recognition app for a non-iOS platform. In this case: Windows Phone. It's a "virtual buddy for your smartphone that uses natural language technology" to answer questions, search for information and launch apps, hooking into Google, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Evernote and other services.
Windows Phone

The Icky Mr Fox

UK studio Ickypen has launched a children's book app that sees Icky Mr Fox trying to ruin the afternoon tea of Mr Rabbit and Mr Mole, with "tippy-tappy objects" that speak their name when touched. Unusually, it's available on Android and BlackBerry PlayBook as well as iPad.
Android / iPad / BlackBerry PlayBook

Around The Clock

Swedish developer Wombi Apps has a characterful new iOS app for children all about clocks. It includes a mini-game for each hour of the day, from teeth-brushing and biking home from pre-school to hammering nails and slicing butter. The idea being to familiarise children with the clock, rather than overtly teach them how to read it.
iPhone / iPad

X-Ray for Android

Android owners concerned about nasty malward have a number of apps to choose from, as security companies pile onto the platform to capitalise on reports of Android viruses. X-Ray for Android is the latest, promising to scan for vulnerabilities and "keep your carrier honest".

5K To Marathon Runmeter GPS

Completed the programme set by a "couch to 5k" app? Time to step up, perhaps: this app focuses on going beyond 5k races to "give you feedback and motivation to go farther, be healthier, and live longer".

Party Wave

Cartoon-surfing game Party Wave looks fun on iOS, getting you to position a bunch of surfers to ride a big wave in top-down view, before switching to a side-on perspective to guide them through it. The game is also notable, though, for being the first from Japanese developer Mistwalker – founded by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi.
iPhone / iPad

Cardagram Postcard

French digital-to-physical postcards app Cardagram has launched in the UK. Like established rival Touchnote, it turns iPhone photos into real postcards to be sent worldwide – usually charging £1.99, although it's £0.99 in a launch offer. One nice touch: it can pull in photos from Instagram and Facebook.

Historables: Marie Ant-toinette

Yes, Marie Antoinette re-imagined as a cartoon "ant queen" in a story-app for children. No, I have no idea how they handle the guillotine part. But yes, the app sees Marie baking and decorating a cake, setting up a castle room and wander through underground ant tunnels. More Historables apps are following from developer Base Camp Films: stand by for Teddy Bear Roosevelt and Lionardo Da Vinci...
iPad © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 23 2012

In the age of the Cultural Olympiad, we're all public performers | Claire Bishop

The latest exhibition at Tate Modern features performers interacting with the public. But it's definitely not high art

Visitors to Tate Modern in the past week will have noticed strange activities in the Turbine Hall. Rather than the usual flurry of cranes, cherry-pickers and engineers that signal the arrival of a new installation, there were 50 people of different shapes and sizes running around the concrete expanse: spiralling in loops, gathering in clusters, hurtling up and down the ramp. In the middle of them was the British-German artist Tino Sehgal, fine-tuning his performance – or as he prefers to call it, "constructed situation" – which opens to the public on Tuesday.

Sehgal's These Associations is a far remove from the overblown visual spectacles that usually make up the annual Unilever commission. At first sight you barely see anything. Then you notice strange ripples of movement across the concrete expanse as the 50 choreographed performers come into view. If you stand by and watch for a while, one of them might come up and talk to you, recounting a personal experience of when they felt they belonged.

Sehgal is well-known for participatory performances in which groups of non-professionals are trained to engage in conversation with the public. For this commission, more than 100 people have been recruited: the youngest is 16; the eldest are in their 70s.

His reliance on non-specialist performers is part of a broader trend since the mid-1990s towards participatory art – and is arguably its institutional apotheosis. For much of this time, however, participatory artists have been working outside the mainstream world of museums. It is only in recent years that the tendency has become high profile, in works such as Antony Gormley's One and Other (2010), when more than 34,000 people applied for a chance to occupy one of his one-hour slots on top of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

At the time the Guardian's Charlotte Higgins referred to the work as "Twitter art", and she wasn't far off the mark: participatory art has proliferated in tandem with the feedback loops of Web 2.0 and social networking, while its fascination with eccentric laymen parallels the populism of reality television. All three tread a very fine line between cultural democratisation and incessant banality.

But participatory art has a long history, spanning the whole 20th century. Today it's an international phenomenon and arguably less political in orientation. It used to work against an absurdly inflated art market, on the one hand, wanting to empower those less privileged, on the other. But part of its recent popularity in the UK is a result of specific ideological motivations. In the mid-90s, New Labour commissioned thinktanks to evaluate the benefits of social participation in the arts. Proof was found that it reduces isolation by helping people to make friends, developing community networks, helping offenders and victims address issues of crime, encouraging people to accept risk positively, and transforming the image of public bodies.

For better or worse, these pro-participation studies became the foundation of New Labour cultural policy and led to a climate in which participatory art and education became a privileged vehicle of the social inclusion agenda. Culture was valued because it created the appearance of social inclusion, even while government continued to erode those institutions that actually assure this – education and healthcare. This led to the contradictory condition of participatory art being embraced by radical artists for its unmarketability, while serving a Potemkin function for its governmental paymasters.

With the arrival of Cameron's "big society" in 2010, the terms of engagement have shifted once more. The Tories have little interest in the political uses of art, preferring to hand it over to the dictates of the market. (The result is Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond's Tatlin-on-crack sculpture, ArcelorMittal Orbit: a £19m monstrosity named after the private individual who funded 85% of its construction.) Mass creativity is supported only to the extent that it is self-generated – and self-funded. In keeping with big society doctrine, wageless volunteers are asked to pick up where the government cuts back. In this climate, participatory art acquires a different resonance, more akin to the sacrifices of unpaid labour. It is no coincidence that a large percentage of the Cultural Olympiad relies on such volunteerism: Marc Rees's Adain Avion, for example, asks local community groups in Wales to be content-providers for a mobile art space made of aircraft fuselage, while Craig Coulthard's forest football pitch in Scotland needs to be "activated" by amateur teams, wearing strips designed by local children.

Herein lies an important difference between Tino Sehgal in the Turbine Hall and the do-good community-based participatory art so rife in the Cultural Olympiad. Sehgal isn't particularly interested in empowering people; those who work for him are paid performers who serve his ends (an enigmatic work designed to reflect on the museum as a space of simultaneously individual and mass address). But what Sehgal does have in common with the majority of participatory artists is a tendency to place an emphasis on everyday (rather than highly skilled) forms of performance.

In so doing, his pieces, like so much other participatory art under neoliberalism, serve a double agenda: offering a popular art of and for the people, while at the same time, reminding us that today we all experience a constant pressure to perform and, moreover, this is one in which we have no choice but to participate. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Tino Sehgal – review

The Berlin-based artist has created one of the best Turbine Hall commissions in which the viewer becomes the subject in a relationship that explores intimacy, communality and the self

As the crowd moves forward, emerging slowly from the darkness at the rear of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, I stand my ground. They are about 70-strong. As they surge around me, one young woman stops and, standing very close, begins to tell me about a childhood incident and how it has affected her view of life. The crowd leaves us behind. Should I turn and walk with her? She seems so intent.

Another woman tells me about a lost love. Someone else, about how a book changed his life. The stories mostly concern private rites of passage and life-changing events and relationships. Things could get embarrassing, with all these confessions and revelations. These people act as if they know me. Suddenly we're plunged into a relationship. Then they're off again.

These intimate, personal stories, lost words, unasked-for intimacies, heel-to-toe slow shuffles and wild runs up and down the ramp are all part of These Associations, which, their participants tell you, is a piece by Tino Sehgal, dated 2012. I have seen many of his works, from the gallery attendants who burst into song, singing "This is so contemporary, contemporary, contemporary" in the German Pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale, to This Variation, in the current Documenta in Kassel, which involves song, dance and mini-lectures to an audience who stumble about in a darkened room.

These Associations is no less complex, affecting and disconcerting. At one point the walk speeds up and I am running to keep up with the story I am being told. Then the crowd whirls like a hive of maddened bees. Now they all seem to be chasing an invisible rabbit. The light keeps changing along with the atmosphere and the performers' routines. At one point the performers loiter and sit, whisper and hiss and sing, coming together as a choir, their words soaring towards the roof. The words themselves – something about the technological age and nature, nature, nature, human nature – get lost in the echoing space.

Within an hour, on the first day, visitors are already joining in. Children run with the pack of performers and snake through Sehgal's milling throng. Soon, I am sure, visitors will be mingling with performers and tell their own stories. We're all participants now. A bystander said: "This is Tino's opera." We're on stage too.

I could barely drag myself away to write this, and I cannot wait to get back. These Associations is a great antidote to the ever more spectacular, large commissions the Unilever Project has produced. It is also a rejoinder to all the brouhaha and corporate fascism and jingoism of the Olympics.

These Associations is one of the best Turbine Hall commissions. There are no objects: we are the subject. It is about communality and intimacy, the self as social being, the group and the individual, belonging and separation. We're in the middle of things. It is marvellous.

Rating: 5/5 © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Tino Sehgal fills Tate Modern's Turbine Hall with storytellers

Anglo-German artist's These Associations is first Turbine Hall installation to use personal interaction

A swarm of 70 people is occupying Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. They walk slowly, solemnly, expressionlessly up the great ramp that leads to the west entrance of the museum. Or, if you arrive at another time, you might see them striding purposefully, or sprinting, or playing some mysterious running game as if chasing an invisible ball, or singing.

A young bearded man detaches himself from the group. He looks me in the eye and starts telling a story, about how he lived in Britain for seven years without once returning to his homeland, and when he finally did, and the plane touched down at the airport, he looked out of the window at the baggage handlers and the ground staff and realised with a shock that everyone looked just like him. And then he started to convulse with uncontrollable weeping, so that even all the children on the plane started staring at him. His story of rupture, exile and return is oddly powerful, not least because he does not say where his homeland is.

This is the new work for the Turbine Hall – a vast stage set that has, over the past dozen years, been the scene of Bruce Nauman's soundscapes, Olafur Eliasson's swollen orange sun and Doris Salcedo's chthonic rupture through the concrete floor. But These Associations, by the Anglo-German artist Tino Sehgal, is the first artwork here to use the intangible stuff of stories and personal interaction as its form – rather than sculpture, painting or installation.

London-born Sehgal, 36, who trained in political economy and dance in Berlin, where he is based, declines to make art that has a physical form. Previous works have included This Progress at the ICA, in which the visitor was greeted by a child, then conducted round the building by people of increasing age, while discussing the idea of progress. He also refuses to publish written explanations of his work or allow official photography although, in the age of the smartphone, plenty of informal pictures and films can be found on the internet.

For the millions of visitors who are expected to pass through Tate Modern's doors between Tuesday, when the work opens to the public, and 28 October, when it closes, the experience of being stopped and spoken to by a complete stranger may be uncomfortable. For Chris Dercon, the director of Tate Modern, it is "the most complex, difficult and dangerous project we have ever put into this museum".

According to Sehgal the work is about the relationship between the individual and the mass: "It is about what it means to belong to a group, which is also quite a personal question for me." The Turbine Hall was intriguing, he said, because "it is such an unusual space for a museum, since museums were invented to train visitors in polite behaviour. But the Turbine Hall is different: it is made to make people gather together and puts them in a joyful, bodily, unrestricted space."

Several hundred participants are involved in the project. They were recruited through networks of friends and acquaintances, and rehearsed by Sehgal and his producer, Asad Raza. The stories they tell visitors are based on a set of open-ended questions asked by Sehgal, such as: "When did you feel a sense of belonging?" and "When did you experience a sense of arrival?" The participants work in four-hour shifts, with breaks, and are paid, according to the Tate curator Jessica Morgan, between £8 and £9 per hour. Most are fitting the work at Tate around other professional commitments, from posts at universities to freelance photography.

According to Raza the work "shows London to itself; it is a more accurate picture of London than something that is cooked up by one particular person". On Monday morning though, none of the participants was black: according to Dercon, "we have complete diversity but we didn't select them as if we were casting a sitcom".

The Turbine Hall has a history of causing its visitors to behave in unexpected ways. Already, half an hour into the preview of the work, children were dashing about and imitating the participants' running games. According to Sehgal, "loss of control is something psychologically necessary to me. If it was all coming from me, it wouldn't be satisfactory." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 21 2012

The Tanks: Art in Action – review

Tate Modern, London

The Tanks at Tate Modern are a tremendous addition to that ever-growing metropolis of art. Three colossal new spaces beneath the ground, they are the first in the world to be permanently dedicated to the kind of art – to quote Claes Oldenburg – that doesn't just sit on its ass in a museum. This means art that moves, passes through time, comes alive even if only for a few dragonfly moments, that lives in one's memory rather than on the gallery wall or the floor.

The Tanks will present films, sound works, performances and happenings as well as ephemeral installations. If you are able to get there today, for instance, you will experience Anthony McCall's sublime solid-light films, including the great Line Describing a Cone in which an entire gallery is filled with nothing but a single spot of light that gradually grows into a beam and eventually a vast hollow cone picked out with swirling fog.

The white light feels by turns solid, as if you are walking through walls, then diaphanous, then floating like a butterfly that can be held for a second. It flickers with gigantic phantasmagoria. These films have become something of cult over the years, not least because they vanished from the 70s scene almost as soon as they appeared. McCall gave up making art while the going was good; fittingly, you can see his films only for a day.

I doubt they will ever have a better venue than the performance space at the Tanks – dark, circular, subterranean and with enough room for several hundred people. It's not an art gallery, nor a concert hall and definitely not a theatre, for the audience will always be eye to eye with (and frequently milling among) the performers.

The Tanks are adapted from the spectacularly vast cylinders that fuelled the former power station, originally designed to hold a million gallons of oil. The walls are raw concrete, still bearing traces of the industrial past in dark stains and hastily scribbled engineering measurements. There is a faint but pungent scent of oil the deeper you go and the further you get from the Turbine Hall entrance. You know you're right at the bottom of a tank when a staircase, like the steps of an empty swimming pool, rises high above your head.

Evidently the place is an event in itself, and redolent of those weird performance venues of the past – old factories, aircraft hangars, the sorting offices and chapels of Artangel productions. Performance art was outside the museum for half a century and more. Think of Yoko Ono having the clothes slowly snipped from her body, Anthony McCall lighting ceremonial fires, Chris Burden having himself shot in the arm by an assistant, John Latham's ritual destruction (by chewing and acid) of Clement Greenberg's influential book Art and Culture: seen by very few people and never inside a gallery.

The Tanks will reverse that tradition. A huge crowd gathered when I was there, for the Belgian Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's choreographed movements to the music of Steve Reich, originally conceived in the 80s and here performed quite suddenly among us like a flash mob. We crammed together in a scarlet chamber listening to the disembodied voices of centenarians lilting down from the roof, and spread out again for the creepy installations of the Korean artist Sung Hwan Kim.

One tank is reserved for works from the Tate collection, and the inaugural experience (until late October) is exhilarating: a pair of projectors spooling black-and-white celluloid across the room at each other to a soundtrack something like old biplanes buzzing and humming. Sound and vision are intimately connected – the op-art patterns read as audio – and the images zip and sizzle on the screen like cinematic Bridget Riley. But the best effect is of moving in throngs among the glamorous limelight.

It's startling to learn that Lis Rhodes made Light Music almost 40 years ago. Yet Tate Modern has only just purchased the piece, presumably with its Tanks in mind. I sometimes wonder if some of the art of that era has been suppressed, or at the very least sidestepped by museums to make today's art look better, brighter, more original. Lis Rhodes's piece knocks spots off the derivative film work of Elizabeth Price, for instance, who is on the shortlist for this year's Turner prize.

So much live art is there to be revived that the curators at the Tanks are unlikely to run out of programme events for years to come. But one question that hangs over this enterprise is whether they should be revived at all if they were only ever intended to be ephemeral in the first place. You had to be there, so to speak. And another question is whether the old spirit of performance art lives on in the business of global art.

Kim's multimedia installation, for instance, had only the barest semblance of vitality to me; a blacked-out gallery in which one could hardly tell if the show had yet arrived for its empty podiums and incomprehensible videos. Sometimes the urge to make drawings, paintings and – alas – diagrams alongside your videos is indivisible from the need to make objects for money and survive.

Everything is going to rest on the curators' live programme for the Tanks. The art from the collection looks excellent, and the schedule has strong names – Boris Charmatz, Ei Arakawa – but a revival of a dance work from the 80s doesn't quite cut it in terms of flair and daring. The issue is how to balance the artists of the future with those of the past.

But for the moment, the Tanks are the coolest part of the whole Tate enterprise. They have an air of freedom about them, as if anything might happen, and that comes from the ever-changing relationship between the raw building, the art and its audience. It feels good to turn right into the unexpected, instead of left into the permanent galleries as you enter. This is exactly what Tate Modern needed. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 25 2012

Master of misery: Edvard Munch at Tate Modern – in pictures

From paintings of vampires, deathbeds and murder sites to self-doubting self-portraits, Edvard Munch dedicated his life to depicting grisly scenes. Here is a selection of works from the man behind The Scream

Edvard Munch: a head for horror

From corpses on the highway to his sister on her deathbed, Edvard Munch was a master of the morbid. At a new Tate retrospective, Adrian Searle even finds his wallpaper terrifying

Hurrying away from the body in the road, the button-eyed murderer looks surprised by how easy it all was. He is heading our way, his eyes fixed on something only he can see. The painting is as quick and careless as the crime itself. Look too long at any bit of this painting, and it quickly falls apart. But this is also what is so good about Edvard Munch's 1919 Murder on the Road. There's not much expression there, the violence already forgotten. It is the record of a man in a rush to be elsewhere. You'd have trouble describing the murderer, except for those eyes – which are in any case just a couple of dots poked into an empty face the colour of the road. He's a sketchy kind of guy.

The whole thing has a penny-dreadful tabloid feel, and Munch might have based it on a grisly story in a Norwegian newspaper. After the mass slaughter of the first world war, and the pandemic of Spanish influenza (which Munch caught, and survived, the same year he painted this), what's one more stupid little killing on a quiet country road?

Munch liked a good murder. A man dies on a couch, blood drooling on to the furniture. His female killer stands across the room against awful green wallpaper, her face a mad scary-movie shriek. The pattern in the wallpaper swarms and roars. You want to get out of there, to be as far away as that hurrying killer on the road. And yet you stay. It is all too horribly compelling.

Munch painted other scenes from this same room: of jealousy and seduction, of silence and something awful about to happen. Each is like a scene from the same grim play, and he would then paint the same sad scene over and over. Six paintings, a bronze sculpture, various drawings, lithographs and photographs all depict a naked woman standing and weeping beside a bed, her head lowered. In each painting, her head is a distraught mess of pigment. I thought of Pierre Bonnard and of Edward Hopper: both succeeded here at what Munch tries and tries and fails to do. Munch's weeping woman is a kind of no one: it is not even clear that she is weeping. Bonnard and Hopper leave you with a sense of an individual in a space.

Even the paintings that are misconceived or a mess are fascinating records of a struggle. To be between greatness and inarticulacy, and to not care either way, takes a perverse sort of courage. At times Munch's paintings show great daring; at others, they become incoherent. Munch was extremely good at doing nasty. You could say he savoured it, and so do we: all those vampires and ruined relationships, horror, illness and death. His appetite for the sanguine is shared by most of us who watch thrillers and crime dramas and read murder stories. How Scandinavian of him, as Björk might sing.

Munch didn't just paint nasty things: it got into the way he painted too, even – perhaps especially – when he painted himself. Unsparing, Munch portrayed himself sick with the Spanish flu, drunk and with the bottles rearing up at him, ill and old and alone, sunken-faced, maundering around a darkened house. He turned himself into a character: melancholy Munch, a man beset by miseries, alcoholism, his own fame and fortune, his conspicuously wayward talent and his endless personal troubles – even though he was once a handsome man (not that the best of looks protect anyone from self-hatred).

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye tries to make us see Munch as modern in several ways: his repetition and serial repainting, his interest in photography and film, his use of theatrical lighting. He was aware of the opportunities and limits afforded by these different media. We always cast the art of the past in the ways that suit us: there is always new research, and new ways of looking. As it is, legions of artists have taken from him in one way or another. Andy Warhol reworked Munch in electric colour. Jasper Johns has quoted him. Martin Kippenberger, Peter Doig, Marlene Dumas, René Daniëls, Tracey Emin and a host of belated neo-expressionists have sucked his blood. Johns made several beautiful paintings in homage to Munch's late self-portrait Self Portrait Between the Clock and the Bed. Mostly, this consists of stylistic borrowings of his touch and the spatial organisation of his paintings, but it is also (in Doig's case, in particular) a matter of adopting an atmosphere.

These reanimations keep Munch alive for us. He also, endlessly, quoted himself. This was more than just feeding his market – though for a long time he did just that, repainting Puberty four times, The Kiss 11 times, the Sick Child (a painting purportedly of his sister dying of tuberculosis), six times. Which is the authentic Sick Child, or the real Scream? Was this catharsis or copying? Something of both. If there is also a sense of regurgitation, well, there was an element of disgust in much of what he did. What is not modern about Munch is his bohemian misanthropy. Maybe it is his conspicuous misery that feels old-fashioned – though he had much to be miserable about: the premature deaths of his mother and siblings, his failed love affairs and fights (he was shot in the hand), his breakdowns and drinking, his eye problems. Apart from anything else, this misery has no humour in it.

The exhibition makes much of Munch's photography, though he took far fewer photographs than his contemporaries Bonnard or Edouard Vuillard, and used photography much more indirectly than, say, Degas, in the service of his art. These photographs are dim, grey, often uncertain things. A great effort is expended in interpreting their cropped figures, double-exposures and vague terrains. There is a terrific emptiness about the yard beside the house where his mother died, and a lot of self-aggrandising in his self-portraits; he took pictures of himself, sometimes naked, adopting theatrical poses of one sort or another. Their relationship to his art, in any practical sense, is extremely limited, though they obviously held some kind of meaning for him.

The bits of film footage Munch shot are even less convincing. He looms and crouches before the camera, as though uncertain about why he is there or what he should do. The footage is a jumble of street scenes in Germany and Norway, footage of his aunt and sister and his friends, strangers on the street. "In the five minutes and 17 seconds that have survived, we can see his fascination with urban life," the catalogue tells us. Maybe he was just mucking about with a new toy.

What really counts here are the paintings, with their swooning fluidity and their weirdness, their interrupted rhythms, their intimacies and drama. Perhaps what Munch was best at was painting emptiness and waiting, things impending. He may be best known for the Scream, which isn't in the show, but it is not his best painting, and gets in the way of the totality of his achievement.

How modern was Munch? At dusk one evening last week, a man in the street threatened to stab me in the heart. "You're not a man," he said, searching for an insult and looking for a fight. "You're a woman." Hoping he might lose interest, my lover and I turned away and kissed, our faces mashing. After a bit the man wandered off, looking for more suitable victims. He was a sketchy kind of guy. It was a Munch-ish sort of moment. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 22 2012

Edvard Munch: the ghosts of vampires and victims

On the eve of a major exhibition at London's Tate Modern, AS Byatt reflects on how she is haunted by the artist's work

Art, wrote Edvard Munch, "is the pictorial form created by the human nerves – the heart – the brain – the eye." As a young man in Norway in the late 1880s he set out a manifesto for an art of passion.

"We want more than a mere photograph of nature. We do not want to paint pretty pictures to be hung on drawing room walls. We want to create, or at least to lay the foundations of, an art that gives something to humanity. An art that arrests and engages. An art created of one's innermost heart."

Like Van Gogh, he wanted to make passionate images of human beings and nature for a secular world, to replace the old religious images. Over his life time he worked and reworked a series of paintings he called The Frieze of Life. Among these were Puberty, Jealousy, Vampire, The Kiss, Madonna, Sphinx, Anxiety, Melancholy, The Dance of Life, Ashes, The Scream. They were painted initially in the 1890s. They are compelling and frequently appalling. The curators of the new exhibition at Tate Modern, Angela Lampe and Clément Chéroux, point out in their catalogue that three-quarters of Munch's output dates from after 1900, most particularly from between 1913 and 1930. Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye is an exhibition of Munch's modern consciousness, and the catalogue analyses his artistic intelligence, his construction of optical space, his relationship with the spectator, his work, in the early days of photography and film, on the reproducibility of images. The authors are not claiming that the modern Munch was less passionate than the symbolist. They are showing how he found new ways of exploring the human nerves, the heart, the brain, the eye. The catalogue is fascinating and full of new ways of looking and thinking.

Munch's is a world full of the ultimate human things – sickness, death, sex, fear, desire, hatred and destruction. His rooms are furnished with dark, solid beds seen from all angles – deathbeds, sickbeds surrounded by those about to become mourners or by mourners, sex beds in which encounters have happened or will happen, beds in which the onlooker can see parts of the corpse of a murdered person while the murderer stares transfixed, the bed in Puberty on which a thin, anxious girl sits with her hands crossed over her genitals. Beside her is a dark shadow, not unlike a magnified image of her own dark hair, which rises like smoke from a point beside her knees. She is unforgettable, as is The Sick Child, an image Munch reworked repeatedly, in both paintings and lithographs. She represents his sister, Sophie, who died when she was 15 and Munch was 13. Looking at these works we are struck by the incongruous liveliness of the child's bright red hair, exactly as we see the tense stillness of the face, the drawn lips. Munch himself described his own struggle to retrieve the image he remembered.

When I saw the sick child for the first time – her pale face with vigorous red hair against a white pillow – it made an impression on me, only to disappear as I worked. I painted a good picture on the canvas, but it was a different one. I repainted that picture many times over the years – scraped it off – let it dissolve into layers of paint … I had captured a lot of that first impression, the tremulous mouth, the translucent skin – the tired eyes – but the colours in the painting were not finished – it was pale grey. The painting as a whole was heavy, like lead.

In 1890 Munch said "I don't paint what I see – but what I saw", and this reference to the part played by memory in the construction of his images makes us see them as different from, for instance, Monet's beautiful and terrifying image of his wife Camille, painted as she died. The first Sick Child was painted in 1885-86, and another in 1896, and there are versions in, for instance, 1907, 1925 – six versions in all.

Lampe and Chéroux point out that Munch came under attack for making numerous copies of The Sick Child. He defended himself by saying that all the repetitions were an act of memory – a continuous struggle with the motif – a continuing work of art. He pointed out that what he was doing was analogous to Monet's series of haystacks or cathedrals – something seen and recorded at successive times, in successive moods. In a splendid chapter called "Reworkings", the authors show how Munch both needed to revisit images and ideas, and was unusually interested in, and sophisticated about, the 20th-century ability to reproduce and record images. I have often, as a writer, wondered what painters feel when they sell a painting. Books proliferate in many forms once they are written. They don't leave the author's possession. Munch records repainting certain images in order still to have one of his own, to think about and remember. Repainting a subject must be a way of both recapturing an idea, and of thinking about it in new ways. Munch painted, for instance, 12 different versions of Vampire – an image of a naked woman with long, wild red hair bent over the dark head of a man whose face is buried in her breasts. Her sharp nose is above his neck and her teeth are presumably buried in it. The background and the subject vary – it is dark and threatening, it is a woodland glade, the woman is more and less animal, the hair is wilder or softer. The effect on the onlooker is to make the image more fixed as it is repeated – there is an archetypal vampire, this is how she is; you can represent her in this way or that but she is constant.

One of the theoretical problems about repetition and reworking is that of authenticity – what is an original, what is a copy? This, the writers point out, later became involved in the idea of the market value of uniqueness. Munch was able to make a living partly by exhibiting versions of paintings already owned by others. Arnold Böcklin was commissioned to repaint his famous Isle of the Dead by Marie Berna, in memory of her dead husband. The case of Giorgio de Chirico is interesting – his early paintings excited, for instance, the surrealists, with their mysterious settings and symbols. But the surrealists were dismayed when after 1920 the painter began to make copies of his own earlier work, which André Breton and Max Ernst found repellent and lifeless. He also made copies and predated them, selling them fraudulently. Both Munch's copies and De Chirico's were in turn copied by Andy Warhol, that master of the repeated image – he did his own versions of Munch's self-portrait with the skeletal arm, of his ghoulish Madonna, and of The Scream itself. As Lampe and Chéroux say: "Warhol had understood that Munch's motifs were just as autonomous and free as a Campbell's soup can or a Marilyn image, and could easily be recombined. He recognised their iconic branding, with The Scream standing for fear, Madonna for ecstasy and Self-Portrait for death."

Munch used many techniques of what Walter Benjamin called "mechanical reproduction" in his essay on "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". Benjamin argued that the proliferation of images of images – prints, photographs – deprived a work of art of its "aura", the sense of power and mystery it had as a unique object of contemplation in societies with religious structures. Benjamin did believe that there still existed "original" works of art, which had "authenticity". But as the Munch catalogue points out, the dividing line between original and copy was blurring appreciably. The availability of original prints by the artists meant that copies were themselves seen to be original works of art.

Munch made etchings and lithographs of the motifs in his well-known paintings. He also took photographs – both conventional and experimental. He recorded himself – a severe profile, a naked man striding on a beach, wielding a paintbrush and palette, a kind of hazy ectoplasm in a deliberately doubled exposure. He took portraits in which he deliberately moved during the shooting, which he called Metabolism – an image, the catalogue remarks, of "the transformation of molecules and energy". He took formal pictures of himself as an inmate of a clinic, taking tea. He took photographs of paintings – of himself, solid and dark, among a group of shadowy painted self-portraits, of the painting of The Sick Child, of himself in bed, one in the series of fateful beds. He painted a sensuous nude with long auburn hair, and photographed the model, standing in the same pose among canvases in the studio. He photographed the truncated skirts and boots of two headless women – the authors suggest that the long shadow that falls across their feet is yet another portion of Munch's self-recording, another hinted self-portrait.

He learned also from the visual forms of early moving pictures. The cinema and the camera revealed new ways of recording movement – how a galloping horse, or an advancing pedestrian or an animated crowd appear to the camera. These contribute to Munch's compelling representations of space – often receding from a figure or creature which is advancing towards the onlooker and is cut off by the frame of the canvas. The painter somehow stretches the space that funnels into the space of the canvas, making everything rush. There is an extraordinary Galloping Horse, hurtling through snow with huge forequarters and wild mane. The animal's diminished hindquarters are barely visible, and the driver, on a kind of sledge, is dwarfed in a perspective which is vertiginous and abnormal. The effect is heightened by the snowy background, which blurs the structure of the landscape – the charging horse appears to be in its own avalanche of white speed. (It has all the same an anxious and homely face.) Two onlookers stand each side of the slope, parallel to the sides of the frame, intensifying the abnormal space of the gallop and the rushing snow.

Something similar is going on in one of my favourite pictures in The Frieze of Life, Red Virginia Creeper. A terrible face is just above the bottom of the frame, under a black cap, with greenish flesh and huge, round staring eyes; a neat inverted V of red moustache over a small frightened mouth makes that mouth simultaneously appalled. Behind this head a brownish path recedes and narrows rapidly – rising reddish out of the shoulder of the terrible figure as the swollen shadow rises out of the hip of the clenched girl in Puberty. Behind that is a very solid block of a bourgeois house, and some clean white railings. There are what may be gravestones leaning above the ground level of the house – which has no visible door. The house is blood red. It is the red of virginia creeper – one of the reds of virginia creeper – but it is flat, not leafy, solid like meat. The red has overwhelmed parts of the upper windows. The white shapes of the two lower windows look like coffins or shrouds. Munch's variations on the colour red are among the most staggering things he does. Here is his description of the moment when he decided to paint The Scream: "One evening I was walking along a road – with the fjord and the town below on the other side. I was sick and tired – I stood for some time looking across the fjord. The sun was setting – the clouds were turning red – like blood. I felt as if a scream was going through nature – I thought I heard a scream. I painted the picture – painted the clouds like real blood. – The colours were screaming. This was the picture The Scream in The Frieze of Life."

These reds are related to the fiery red hair of the sick child and the vampire. They are also related to the face of a repeated image he made late in his life. The subject of Young Woman Weeping by the Bed walks, or stands, naked, with her face bent down, and the face is usually the same blood-red as the creeper – a red maybe of skin bloated by weeping, or a blush of shame or terror?

The shape of Munch's relationship with the onlooker was also influenced by his venture into stage design. In 1906 he worked in Berlin with the great theatre director, Max Reinhardt, who had opened a new, intimate Kammerspiele (chamber theatre), which was like a room in which the audience was close to the action. Munch designed sets for Ibsen's Ghosts and Hedda Gabler, and had his own studio space where he worked on the Frieze of Life, one version of which was exhibited in the foyers. His set for Ghosts is particularly impressive. He placed a huge black armchair with its back to the audience – representing the space of the unspoken family secrets that drove the action behind it. Reinhardt was enthusiastic about this design. "The armchair says it all! … And the walls of the rooms in Munch's painting! They are the colour of gum disease. We have to try to find wallpaper in exactly this tone. It will put the actors in the right mood! To come fully into its own, facial expression needs space that is modulated through form, light, and above all, colour."

It was round about that time that Munch remarked of one of his works: "I have painted a still life as good as any by Cézanne, except that in the background I have painted a murderess and her victim." The title is Still Life, the Murderess. I don't know what this would be in the original language. Nature Morte is an even grimmer joke.

Throughout Munch's career he studied himself, implacably, in a series of self-portraits in various media that recorded his ageing and sickness – both mental and physical. In 1930 he had a rupture in the retina of his right eye that led to a haemorrhage. This was his good eye, as the other had been injured in a fight. Munch painted what his eye recorded – the "inside of sight" as Max Ernst put it. He painted the "spots in his vision", circular, concentrically coloured optical illusions, blood red and bright blue, and an image of the artist in his bed "seeing" a floating blue skull with reddened eyehole shadows. He painted also a great illusory bird form – Kneeling Nude with Eagle, in which the creature appears to be attacking the kneeling figure. This unflinching study of the damage is a distant continuation of the fact that when he was first painting The Sick Child he saw his own eyelashes as dark streaks in the upper corner of the image and painted them in too.

The late portraits, of a thinning, questioning, diminishing figure, still curious about himself and his world, are moving and remarkable. In Self-Portrait between the Clock and the Bed he stands with hanging arms and an almost mild, almost expressionless face between the tall, dark pillar of time and a hospital-like bed, with a white bedspread striped in black and red. He is in shadow. Behind him the space is full of golden light and the wall is studded with paintings and drawings. On the right in a strip of dark is a narrow, moony abstract female nude, suspended in space. Death, painting? It is unforgettable, in its use of space, in its perfectly executed feeling. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 29 2012

Tate's new gifts

Works by David Hockney, Lucian Freud, R B Kitaj and Rachel Whiteread are among the nine being gifted by philanthropists Mercedes and Ian Stoutzker

May 09 2012

Tate announce 2013 programme

Art lovers will be able to enjoy a major retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein's work and find out how LS Lowry was influenced by the French, as the Tate galleries reveal next year's programmes

Comic strips, matchstick men and David Bowie will hit the Tate in 2013, along with Marc Chagall, Gary Hume and Paul Klee. The four galleries – Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate St Ives and Tate Liverpool – have announced their programmes for next year, which include the first major retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein's work for 20 years and a show that will demonstrate how LS Lowry was influenced by French painting.

Lichtenstein, whose comic-strip-style paintings made him one of the forefathers of pop art, will be shown at London's Tate Modern from February. The exhibition will include landmark works including Whaam!, his famous 1963 picture of a fighter plane being shot by another, and Drowning Girl, both appropriated from contemporary comics, as well as the Artist's Studio series which saw him bring his graphic, pop style to his own surroundings and other real-life art works. It will also display lesser known late work including a series of female nudes and Chinese landscapes.

The gallery's autumn show will be dedicated to Klee, a pivotal figure in 20th century art, who taught at the Bauhaus school and whose intense, radiant paintings, replete with symbolism and references to the unconscious, draw on cubism, surrealism and primitive art. It will be the first Klee exhibition to take place in the UK for more than 10 years.

The Lowry show will take place at London's Tate Britain from next June, the first of its kind since the artist's death in 1976. Last year, the actor Ian McKellen accused the Tate of neglecting the artist, after claiming that it had shown only one of the 23 Lowry works it owns – a claim the Tate denies. Though Lowry's images of matchstick-style workers in industrial landscapes are some of the most famous in British art, the exhibition promises to reveal how he was influenced by 19th-century French painters such as Camille Pissarro and Maurice Utrillo.

Tate Britain promises to unveil its refurbished galleries in early summer next year, including a re-hang that has already aroused some controversy, with Burlington magazine claiming that it was prioritising modern works over pre-20th century ones. It will also stage an exhibition of work by Hume alongside that of Patrick Caulfield, who died in 2005.

Tate Liverpool will approach another aspect of popular British art with its show Glam! The Performance and Style, which promises to demonstrate the influence of the glam rock era, from 1971 to 1975, on other art forms in Europe and America. The gallery will also host Chagall: A Modern Master, the first exhibition of the Russian artist's work for 15 years. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Whaam! Prepare to be hit by Roy Lichtenstein's finest comic book hour

The retrospective of Lichtenstein's work at London's Tate Modern will display the wit and glorious contradictions of his works

Roy Lichtenstein's Whaam! is an eerie modern version of the battle paintings that once decorated European palaces and council chambers. It is on a grand scale, split across two panels that together measure more than four metres in width. An American fighter unleashes a spurt of fire that blows up an enemy plane, giving the pilot no chance of escape. It is a picture of violence, but the violence is experienced third hand. The painting is meticulously translated from a DC War comic, the dots and bold colours of the original recreated by hand on an inflated scale. Our response to it is ambivalent. Is this a celebration of boys' comics, a comment on their glorification of war, a metaphor for the chilled and mechanised nature of modern killing – or nothing so serious?

It is, whatever it is, one of the most powerful monuments of 1960s pop art. Painted in 1963, Whaam! has been in the Tate collection since 1966 and has long been one of the most famous modern masterpieces in Britain. It is probably Lichtenstein's finest hour. We will have a chance to see it in the context of this artist's lifetime achievement when a retrospective of his work from the Art Institute of Chicago arrives at London's Tate Modern in 2013.

Lichtenstein made realistic paintings of an unreal world. His art is gloriously paradoxical – and the cleverest paradox is that, as in Whaam!, the unreal world turns out to have echoes in the actual one. Very early on, he hit on his comic book subject matter, and this gave his art a look it never lost – an enlarged, precise graphic style that incongruously translates efficient designs created for the page on to the generous scale of American abstract art. Like all the pop generation in America, he was working in the shadow of the abstract expressionists who in the 1940s and 50s widened the reach of painting, destroying the difference between the easel picture and the mural. Lichtenstein plays wittily on that epic scale, by filling it with comic book images that are the very opposite of the contemplative numinous clouds of Mark Rothko's visions.

In Whaam! this becomes a joke about freedom. The abstract expressionists have sometimes been accused of serving as propagandists for American culture in the cold war. The truth is more interesting. Jackson Pollock, the artist who defined abstract expressionism in the public eye, was indeed enacting freedom in the way he painted – the freedom of jazz music. With jazz 78s playing, he moved around a canvas laid on the ground, flicking and dripping paint. It was an improvisation, like Charlie Parker playing sax. In Whaam!, this free art is mockingly parodied. Lichtenstein carefully, accurately recreates an image – and that image shows a man finding freedom in machines. As he fires, the pilot obtains a sense of release. Like Jack the Dripper, he expresses himself – but does it by pressing a button.

Whaam! is still, as it was then, a comic image of American male freedom. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 23 2012

Tate Modern unveils underground space devoted to live art

Gallery says two former oil tanks will be filled with performances and debates, starting this summer

Dropping in to Tate Modern's new underground oil tank spaces this summer might mean seeing a performance of minimalist dance, taking part in a debate on what it is to be an immigrant or experiencing work by an artist who most recently filmed naked men playing five-a-side football.

The gallery has revealed details of the Tanks, described as the world's first museum space dedicated permanently to live art, installation and performance. They will open on 18 July, 10 days before the Olympics, and be filled this summer and autumn with a 15-week festival of art.

Tate's director, Nicholas Serota, called the Tanks "incredible spaces" and said the festival was "a very exciting moment for Tate". While the gallery had always been an enthusiastic collector and exhibitor of installation and live art, the Tanks offered something new, he said. "The public wishes to engage with these works in a very different way from simply going in to a gallery and observing the work on the floor or a wall.

"The Tanks are the first spaces dedicated permanently to live art, installation and performance in any museum building anywhere in the world."

The new spaces are three 30-metre-wide concrete oil tanks decommissioned more than 30 years ago. One will be used as back-of-house while the other two will permanently show live art, performance, film and installation as well as hosting symposiums and conferences. The East Tank will be taken over this summer by a single new work by a Korean artist, Sung Hwan Kim, who will tell a story using drawing and writing as well as music, video, sound and sculpture.

Work in the South Tank will be "constantly changing, constantly evolving, constantly shifting. Any time you come down you might see something completely different from what you saw the previous day, or the previous week," said the curator of film, Stuart Comer.

The first project will feature the choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker adapting an important and seminal minimalist dance work she first performed in 1982 called Fase: Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich, consisting of three duets and one solo.

Another artist in the South Tank will be the young British artist Eddie Peake who this year showed a film of men playing football naked. Comer said: "He is very interested in aspects of voyeurism and sexuality, in particular the male body. He will be developing a new project for this space responding to those interests and to the space itself."

What the new work will be is still in development but curators said it would feature men and yes, they could even be naked.

The Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, who mounted an exercise in crowd control using two mounted police officers at Tate Modern in 2008, returns for a three-week residency in which she will run workshops and stage discussions around her ongoing art project called Immigrant Movement International.

In total, more than 40 established and emerging artists will take part in the festival, including the British artist Tina Keane, the US choreographer Yvonne Rainer and the Korean artist Haegue Yang, who had his first big UK exhibition last year at Modern Art Oxford.

There will also be a concrete space called the Transformer Galleries showing installations of recent major acquisitions such as two works which Tate said were emblematic of the direction it was taking. One is a work called Crystal Quilt by the US west-coast artist Suzanne Lacy, which saw her working with older women in Minnesota for nearly three years, culminating in an hour-long live TV performance exploring issues around older women and their visibility. The other is by the British avant-garde filmmaker Lis Rhodes, called Light Music.

The Tanks are the first phase of the bigger £215m Tate expansion project which will eventually see another 10 floors built above the oil tanks which will, after the festival, be reopened periodically while work continues towards the planned overall opening date of 2016. Serota would not be drawn on fundraising – it is 75% complete – or whether the government's recent changes to tax relief rules on philanthropic giving would hit it badly.

The festival, which runs until 28 October, is part of the London 2012 Festival, the showcase culmination of the Cultural Olympiad.

Catherine Wood, curator of contemporary art and performance, said the Tanks would allow the gallery to plant seeds of experiment, watch them grow over time and let them unfold at their own pace. "We're excited about the opportunity to create events that are part installation, part discussion, part performance, which is very much in the spirit of how artists are working now."

Of course, live and performance art is not new – Joseph Beuys was active in the 60s, Marina Abramovic was asking people to squeeze through the naked bodies of herself and her boyfriend in the 70s – and Wood said the gallery wanted to root new work in the wider history of the genre. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 20 2012

Damien Hirst looks back on his life in art

Artist Damien Hirst chronicles the evolution of his career, from growing up in Leeds to attending Goldsmiths College and helping start the Young British Artists movement

April 18 2012

Damien Hirst takeover: the making of my diamond skull

The controversial artist reveals his thoughts behind the construction of For the Love of God, his £50m platinum and diamond skull sculpture

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