A rather confusing show takes place at Tate Britain. A piece of lead from the US with very little obvious aesthetic appeal is on show there. There are also marble fragments from Dublin, stained glass windows from Canterbury Cathedral and a smashed piano, complete with an audio recording of its destruction at the hands of an axe wielding artist. Aside from the Medieval windows which have been removed from the cathedral especially for the exhibition and therefore represent a real coup for the Tate, these objects may look out of place in an art museum and, at first glance, seem as if they have little in common. One common feature, however, links them: they are all works of art that have suffered physical attacks. ‘Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm’ explores 500 years of deliberate destruction in Britain.
The first problem with the assertion is that iconoclasm does not equate physical attack on art. Although it implies it, it is not a synonym of it. I guess that the problem with this show is that it tries to question so many things at once that it ends up evidencing the confusion and institutional need to ‘do something’ of Tate’s curators. This is a curators’ show that paradoxically showcases how dysfunctional museum bureaucracies are.
The exhibition opens with Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries beginning beginning in 1536, an act that led to the destruction of countless works of art including the attack on the hyperrealistic pre-Reformation sculpture Statue of a Dead Christ, around 1500-20 one of the stars of the Tate show. Found buried under the floor of London’s Mercers’ Chapel in 1954, the sculpture was probably attacked on orders of Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI. Henry’s actions laid the foundation for the future destruction of images including the removal of depictions of Christ from Canterbury Cathedral’s windows more than 100 years later. Political motives are usually a reason for iconoclasm, religion too. So what the hell are the Chapman Brothers doing at the end of this show? Very confusing, if you ask me.
At the Tate Modern
Until January 5th