A Bigger Splash, [ACTION PAINTINGS] At The Tate Modern, 23/03/13

Tate Modern
14 November 2012 – 1 April 2013

I felt as thought ‘A Bigger Splash’ was a show of two halves. Action paintings, and theatrical sets. This first review of the show I aim to discuss the ‘action’ performances with in the exhibition. The second review of this show, i will discuss the more ‘theatrical rooms and sets’.

By examining this relationship between paint, the body and the gallery space, A Bigger Splash uncovers the underlying influence of action and performance after the 1950s upon artists working with painting today.

This exhibition takes a new look at the dynamic relationship between performance and painting since 1950. Contrasting key paintings by Jackson Pollock and David Hockney, the exhibition considers two different approaches to the idea of the canvas as an arena in which to act: one gestural, the other one theatrical. The paintings of the Vienna Actionists or the Shooting Pictures of Nikki de St Phalle are re-presented within the performance context that they were made, juxtaposed with works by artists such as Cindy Sherman and Jack Smith that used the face and body as a surface, often using make-up in work dealing with gender role-play. I believe this exhibition proposes a new way of looking at the work of a number of younger artists whose approach to painting is energised by these diverse historical sources, drawing upon action painting, drag and the idea of the stage set.


Niki de Saint Phalle, Shooting Painting


Action shot of Yves Klein ‘body paintings’ of the 60’s

A Bigger Splash offers a unique chance to see how ‘action’ painters worked in the 1950s, 1960s and beyond, including Niki de Saint Phalle, Pinot Gallizio, the Japanese Gutai and Viennese Actionists. Rarely seen films and photographs revealed how their experimental works were made, showing some artists using their feet as brushes, snipping up their canvases and shooting their paintings with air rifles.

You are taken through the role of performance in creating art, from Niki de Saint Phalle shooting at sacks of paint embedded in the canvas through to the use of the human body for applying paint. This brings up yet another interesting question of the role of showmanship in art. Yves Klein set up public events where naked models would smother themselves with paint and use their bodies as brushes to create paintings. Klein was extremely media savvy and knew the attention this would draw, but without the public interest it’s likely this work would never have been created — no performance, no artwork.

Cindy Sherman Untitled 1983 Verbund Collection © Cindy Sherman, courtesy of Metro Pictures, New York

Cindy Sherman
Untitled 1983

Moving beyond ‘action painting’, the exhibition also showed how artists experimented with painting as a transitory form using drag or camouflage, often treating make-up as a vernacular equivalent of ‘fine art’. These explorations of role-play and illusion include videos, such as Bruce Nauman’s Flesh to White to Black to Flesh, 1968, photographs, such asCindy Sherman’s self-portraits disguised as strange characters, and film stills, such as Jack Smith’s fantastically made-up cast of performers in his painted apartment.

As well as seeing paint as the trace of an action and as ‘masquerade’ on the body, this show explores how artists have played with the idea of the ‘stage set’. The exhibition showcases a number of recent large-scale installations, such as Karen Kilimnik’s dream-like Swan Lake 1992 and Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s theatrical room Jean Cocteau…” 2003-12. It reveals how attitudes developed through ‘performance art’ paved the way for contemporary artists such as IRWIN, Jutta Koether, Ei Arakawa and Lucy McKenzie to rethink painting.

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