Spectacle and Arte Povera at the Tate

Last week was not great. Two arguments with the bank over dad’s Power of Attorney, a formal complaint on two counts being upheld, then another complaint and compensation, dad’s boiler breaking down, dad breaking down, Karen thinking there is a mouse in the house, me cutting myself (by accident) and it goes on….

Anyway even though it was cold and damp K and I decided to go to the Tate Modern as I knew they had an exhibition on Arte Povera and, after booking parking, we arrived at 11.30. We were not disappointed.


From the moment of arrival we were met with a massive scaffold structure that could have been either an installation or art. When we situated ourselves above  it we saw a large series of triangular plots of dirt and read about Abraham Cruzvillegas’ Empty Lot.

This grid of triangular wooden planters holds soil collected from parks in London. The idea is that nothing is planted in the soil, but the installation is lit and watered and so over the period of its six month life viewers will see what grows and how it changes and so the blurb says it “provokes questions about the city and nature, as well as wider ideas of chance, change, and hope.” (Tate Modern, 2015)

This installation sort of set the tone of the experience. There were some very interesting – thought provoking – pieces like Roger Hiorn’s Engine where he has dipped a car engine in copper sulphate crystals and then allowed the chemical reaction to take place resulting in a magnificent blue surface accretion. This spoke to me about the seduction of the car and the beauty of the natural chemical reaction that repurposed the original item.

Then there was Subodh Gupta’s Everyday where the viewer is presented a collection of stainless steel kitchen items such as spatulas, pots, buckets and containers all placed on a massively oversized tray. This too worked as a spectacular piece and then as a discourse as its meaning could be seen to change once we read about Gupta’s intention:

“Gupta, who was born into a poor rural community, sees these objects as part of the everyday make-up of India. ‘The poor, the middle classes and the rich use them at home’, he explains. ‘In this country, how many people have the utensils but they starve because there is no food?’ (Tate Modern, 2015)

And then I came to the piece that I had wanted to see. Giuseppe Penone’s To Unroll One’s Skin 1970 consists of 648 photographs of the artist’s skin, mounted onto 18 panels. However instead of following an ordered sequenced progression over the body the artist arranged the grid so as to break up and reorder his skin to create a new  landscape. I also really liked the fact that the artist left spaces on the gird which I read as recognising that the skin will change over time and so the work will always be unfinished (or at least until his demise).

The associated reading material placed this last work within the Arte povera movement and explained that while the movement is usually considered as a sculptural one, where artists used everyday materials rather than traditional fine art ones to create their work. However I felt that each of these three works could be seen to fall into that category and each one worked as both a discourse and spectacle.

There were other items that leant themselves more one way or the other. For example, Nam June Paik’s Bakelite Robot, just looked great and offered real spectacle with its screens constantly moving whereas some of the installations left me a little cold.


Tate, (2015) here: http://www.tate.org.uk


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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3 Responses to Spectacle and Arte Povera at the Tate

  1. Catherine says:

    Wish I could see a larger image of Penone’s work.

    Liked by 1 person

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