Critics on the Tate re-hang

May 16 2013

Image of Critics on the Tate re-hang

Picture: Evening Standard

It's interesting to see how the press has run with Tate's PR line about their 'rehang', as if displaying the very pictures it was always intended to display was somehow something unusual, and special. One never hears of such a thing at the National Gallery. But anyway, it seems to have gone down well. Richard Dorment gives it five stars in the Telegraph:

So the first thing to say about Curtis’s rehang is that it is gloriously, satisfyingly, reactionary. In 20 galleries that are intended as an introduction to British art for the general public, about 500 works of art including paintings, sculpture and drawings are hung chronologically from the 16th to the 21st centuries. This is art history as it used to be taught before it was hijacked by academic theorists. Every gallery is labelled by the date of the art shown in it, and just in case anyone might think the redisplay is temporary, those dates are set into the floor in large gold letters at the entrance.

In The Times, Rachel Campbell-Johnston, notes the lack of descriptive labels:

The loser looks set to be the student armed with his or her art history book. The labelling is minimal. There is nothing to guide you through major art movements. And so what, to the expert, might seem delightfully risque, may feel confusing to the novice.

The curators' answer is simple - use your eyes.

Ah, the great label debate. I've never understood why people get so worked up over a long and helpfully descriptive label. Nobody has to read them - they're just there for those that want to. Isn't taking away all background information a rather punitive thing to do?

Even Brian Sewell is relieved to see Tate's 'historic collection' back on the walls after so long hidden away. It's undeniably the case though that there is now less space for 'old' art than there was before. As Sewell concludes, when finding whole galleries at Tate Britain devoted to individual 20th Century artists:

With this intrusive silliness, Tate Britain is divided into one third for its historic possessions, and two-thirds for its infinitely weaker holding of recent-modern and contemporary art.

Such a division is extraordinarily and inexcusably unbalanced.

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