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Tate Modern

Artists of the world united

Cities provide the context for many of the 20th century’s most important innovations, but are also environments in which literature, music, art and thought merge, split or collide with one another. Tate Modern’s first major exhibition since opening ambitiously comprises nine sections, 13 curators and 1,500 works spread over two floors. The display combines the scale and global scope of an international biennial with the historical perspective of art’s most varied century

Moscow 1916-30

Curator: Lutz Becker

Coordinator: Susan May

After London and Bombay, which are in the Turbine Hall, the visitor goes up to the fourth floor for the rest of the exhibition. The first city encountered there on is Moscow and the broad time period of this section covers both the Bolshevik Revolution (represented by a projection of Dziga Vertov’s radically edited street scenes filmed during the uprising) and the implementation of Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan.

Ideas became concrete after the revolution, and art, no matter how idealistic, was meant to communicate to the masses. Vladimir Tatlin’s futuristic models for housing projects and solo human-powered flight fill one gallery, while Lazar El Lissitzky’s 1923 “Proun-Rum”, a 3-D Constructivist assemblage of wooden panels and painted lines, has been reconstructed in the UK for the first time.

An enormous montage of photographs, political leaflets and propaganda posters suggest the graphic dissemination of culture in Moscow, while Malevich’s Suprematist works and Rodchenko’s oval constructions fly the flag for the Avant-garde. The section ends with models from early Modernist stage productions by Liubov Popova.

Paris 1905-15

Curator: Serge Fauchereau

Coordinator: Susan May

How best to represent the cultural explosion that occurred within only a few years of 1900 in Paris? With so much written about the various isms—Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism and Orphism—the focus has been shifted onto the influx of international artists into the Parisian community before the Great War broke out.

Artists from Germany, Russia, Spain and Italy, and as far afield as Lithuania and Mexico, gathered in the cafés and bars of Montmartre and Montparnasse to share ideas with each other. Remarkable collaborations took place between artists, writers, poets and patrons, many of which are featured in the exhibition, including Sonia Delaunay’s illustrations for Prose of the Transsiberian by Blaise Cendrars, works penned by Apollinaire and finished by André Derain and a portrait of Max Jacob by Picasso. Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes are represented by costume and set designs and accompanied by Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring” playing in the gallery.

The centrepiece is an enormous four metre-long painting by Robert Delaunay, “La ville de Paris”, incorporating elements of Picasso and Braque’s Cubism, Léger’s Tubism, Cézanne’s bathers and the industrial splendour of the Eiffel Tower.

Vienna 1908-18

Curators: Richard Calvocoressi and Keith Hartley

Coordinator: Susan May

The Vienna section provides snap-shots of cultural life in the Austrian capital, beginning with a recreation of a Viennese coffee house.

Maverick architect, Adolf Loos, who built his controversial, pared-down house on Michaelerplatz opposite the opulence of the Imperial residence in the centre of old Vienna, met and championed Oskar Kokoschka. Subsequently Loos introduced Kokoschka to playwrights, such as Karl Kraus and Peter Altenberg, and to musicians, most notably the composer Arnold Schoenberg.

A succession of impressive loans crown the Viennese section, with Freud’s couch and rug leaving the London Freud Museum for the first time in 60 years, and a range of Egon Schiele’s work, notoriously difficult to borrow, including pictures from the Leopold Museum in Austria and drawings from the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) documenting human life from portraits of babies to the deceased.

Lagos 1955-70

Curators: Okwui Enwezor and Olu Oguibe

Coordinator: Emma Dexter

Unfamiliar though the West-African city of Lagos is as a cultural capital, it was the hub of Nigeria’s artistic and intellectual development. Nigerian independence in 1960 led to over half a decade of prosperity, optimism and creativity, cut short in 1966-67 by military coups which resulted in all-out civil war and massive cultural and professional brain-drain.

Enwezor’s curatorial approach tends not to favour high culture over pop culture, so Highlife music and the Lagos club scene are afforded the same weight as the work of artists, actors and writers who met at the Mbari Club. Colonial influences were slowly giving way to new, African forms in paintings by Malangatana Ngwenya and sculptures of Adebisi Akanji. Images from family photo albums, showing the work and home lives of middle-class Lagosians are included, as well as magazines, posters and album covers of the time.

Bombay/Mumbai 1992-2001

Curator: Geeta Kapur

Coordinator: Emma Dexter

Another city that has shed its colonial heritage is Bombay, now known by its original Marathi name, Mumbai. Often associated with its Bollywood film industry, Bombay also has a burgeoning contemporary art scene, represented by video and installation pieces in the Tate’s giant Turbine Hall. Beyond the boundary of the London section, also on the ground floor, the Bombay exhibition opens with a pandal or pavilion, made from bamboo and linen, traditionally intended for wedding parties. A cinema hoarding sits on top of the pavilion, while inside, documentaries and films about India’s most glamorous metropolis are screened.

Bombay has the widest range of visual material of all the nine cities in the exhibition, from street advertising and posters to paintings by established Indian artists such as Tyeb Mehta or M.F. Husain, the latest internet art and a specially commissioned series of painted shop-front shutters by Atul Dodiya.

London 1990-2001

Curator: Emma Dexter

Chronologically second to last, London is actually the first city located after the entrance, but is partially hidden by an enormous curtain hung from the top of the Turbine Hall. Behind this banner, which is decorated with an enormous cityscape, a winding structure based loosely on a London street, incorporates installations by young artists, product designers and magazine photographers. An alleyway of posters lines one wall and works are dotted on and under the Turbine Hall’s idiosyncratic bridge. Juergen Teller’s snapshot series, “Go-Sees”, of wannabe-fashion models are on the bridge itself and Nick Knight’s magazine shoot of amputees, “Accessible”, are blown-up to monumental scale above the first-floor windows.

Senior curator at Tate Modern, Emma Dexter, has consciously mixed fine art, photography, fashion, design and architecture to encompass some notion of an eclectic, London style. Another theme in this section is how artists make use of the vernacular or everyday in their works, including Michael Landy’s mock-market stall, Tord Boontje’s reading area consisting of found furniture and Wolfgang Tillmans’s series of photographs capturing Concorde in flight.

Rio de Janeiro 1950-64

Curator: Paulo Venancio Filho

Coordinator: Donna de Salvo

Modern Rio was obsessed with the new, generating the mellow musical mixture of jazz and samba called Bossa Nova (literally New Wave in Portuguese); the somatic, geometric sculptures of Neoconcretism and the urban films of the Cinema Novo. Oscar Niemeyer, the architect of Brazilia (the new capital city), was undoubtedly influenced by Le Corbusier, and Sergio Camargo learnt much from Constantin Brancusi and Hans Arp, but the Brazilian versions of the Avant-gardes of Modernism and Constructivism turned out to be very different from their Western models. The Neoconcrete movement was more organic and sensuous than its harsh European antecedent but, according to the curator, might also have been a necessarily rational response to the chaos of Rio’s favela or shanty towns. A gallery devoted to these artists of the early 1960s features suspended works by Hélio Oiticica and large monochrome spatial reliefs by Sergio Camargo, as well as Lygia Clark’s hand-held “Bicho” sculptures, aluminium pieces on an origami scale.

New York 1969-74

Curator: Donna de Salvo

This period, variously described as “post-movement” and “post-modern”, sidesteps the well-trodden fields of Abstract Expressionism and Pop art, concentrating instead on the aftermath of Minimalism; the works of Robert Smithson and Eva Hesse and the early days of performance art, through works by Adrian Piper, Joan Jonas, Vito Acconci and Gordon Matta-Clark. Political and social expression was experiencing a high in the early 1970s, with anti-Vietnam protests and the rise of the women’s movement, while financially the city was in a huge slump, culminating in Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

New York’s SoHo district was where it was at. The loft scene attracted jazz musicians such as Ornette Coleman and Charlie Mingus as well as visual artists of all kinds, from painters and sculptors, to video and performance artists, who used the spaces as ad hoc galleries. New York’s specific role in the art of the time takes the form of Matta Clark’s enormous segment of cut-out building installed in one room while the city becomes a stage for films of “Streetworks” by Piper & Acconci, which engaged unsuspecting citizens in performances.

Tokyo 1967-73

Curator: Reiko Tomii

Coordinator: Donna de Salvo

The period immediately after the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo (the first ever held in Asia) brought a surge of energy and pride to the capital of a nation that was left reeling by World War II. The International Expo of 1970 marks the high mid-point of the period which ends with the financially catastrophic world-wide oil crisis. The boom brought an intensive building programme that changed Tokyo’s skylines in the mid-1960s, but it was not until Arata Isozaki’s thesis, the Dismantling of Architecture, that a theoretical model for a forward-looking, environmental architecture was born.

Reconstructions of works by artists from the Mono-ha group, who were concerned with the material substance of things, have been made; Sekine Nobuo’s giant sponge sits in one gallery and Koshimizu Susumu’s propped-up wooden planks are in another. Works by conceptualists and anti-artists including the Bikyoto group are also on show, of particular interest are two pieces by Akasegawa Genpei, his “Model 1,000-Yen Note” (1966-99) is a collection of the mechanically reproduced 1,000 yen notes he sent out with the aim of replacing Japan’s real currency, and another is a huge rock that he has posted around the world, the final addressee being Nicholas Serota himself.

The inclusion of ex-pat Tokyo artists Yoko One and Yayoi Kusama is actually a fair reflection of the parallels between artistic practice in New York at the same time.

The design

Architects: Caruso St John

With projects including the New Art Gallery Walsall, the Gagosian outpost in London, a forthcoming refit of the Barbican concert hall and exhibition designs for Tate Britain and the Fondation Cartier, Caruso St John are now firmly established as architects to the art world.

One half of the firm, Adam Caruso, explains that the biggest challenge was to adapt the enormous Turbine Hall, the only “found” or unmodified space of the power station, for a temporary exhibition. With so many individual works it is also hard to reconcile any architectural features with the installations and pieces in the show.

“We’re not sculptors, we’re architects, but on the other hand we didn’t want to build an art fair with boxes for each work to sit in.” After the imposing curtain that runs from ceiling almost to floor at the entrance, purposefully blocking a full view of the cities of Bombay and London behind, there is a structure, nicknamed the barracks, mimicking a London street scene, which has been coloured to blend in with the open brick work of the turbine walls.

Upstairs the problem became the intense nature of jumping from Paris to Rio or from Lagos to Moscow, even though each section is colour coded and clearly labelled. One unifying element is the exhibition furniture, which Caruso St John designed specifically to display archival materials and documents.

The competition

The panoply of international art in “Century City” neatly complements many other concurrent exhibitions. For instance, the Rio section covers similar ground to the Reina Sofía’s huge survey of Latin American art (see p.29) and three artists featured in the New York roster are having major shows at the moment: Yoko Ono’s touring show leaves New York for Minneapolis in March, an Adrian Piper retrospective has just closed at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York and Joan Jonas is showing at the Galerie der Stadt, Stuttgart.

The city is fast becoming the millennial theme de rigeur: the Danish Louisiana Museum of Modern Art’s recently staged “Vision and reality: conceptions of the 20th century”, including architectural models and Russian Constructivism; the Getty Museum’s new exhibition is “Shaping the great city: Modern architecture in Central Europe, 1890-1937”; a study of urban transport, “Cities in motion”, is at the Canadian Center for Architecture, and “Mutations: the new face of the city” continues until 1 March at the Arc en Rêve in Bordeaux.

“Century city: art and culture in the modern metropolis”, 1 February-29 April, Tate Modern, Bankside. Tel: +44 (0)207 887 888

“Century city: art and culture in modern metropolis”

How we constructed this

global melting-pot blockbuster

“Century city” has been a year in the making and Iwona Blazwick, head of exhibitions and displays, has chaired a meeting with Tate curators every week. Here she outlines the exhibition’s main premise.

L.B. How did you choose the different locations?

IB: The first step was that we really wanted to make it global, because when the art world says ‘international’ it usually means Paris, Berlin and New York. So what we did was look at the continents, and, in fact, the nine cities represent the continents: Africa and Asia have Lagos, Bombay and Tokyo ; the Americas have Rio and New York; and Europe has Paris, Moscow, Vienna and London. Then we also wanted to avoid the cities which had been shown in London before. Of course, we thought about cities like Berlin, but there have recently been some really huge exhibitions about art in 20th-century Berlin, and so we thought this would be an opportunity to move into a different area.

LB: And the show doesn’t just stick to visual art.

IB: We were also looking at cities where there was this notion of the cultural flashpoint, within all different disciplines. So one of our guiding principles was to look for maybe two other areas such as literature, dance, cinema, music or architecture. Then each city also reflects different relationships with the notion of the city itself, so in each case there’s a different way of understanding the city. With London we are looking at the city as a readymade; with New York it’s city as a performing space, and with Moscow it’s the city as a stage for revolution. With Paris we’re looking at very visible signs of modernity: the Eiffel Tower, trains, suburbs, electricity, but with Vienna, it’s very much about the crisis of the self, the idea of how cities can be quite alienating (Karl Krauss is quoted in the catalogue as saying “Vienna is an isolation cell where you’re permitted to scream”). Then with Lagos we’re concentrating on the idea of ‘high life’—people like Sunny Ade marrying modernity with what they felt was a suppressed African tradition—while Bombay is really about hybridity: there is a whole range of different religious groups, millions of people flooding in from across the subcontinent, and in the work itself there’s a very powerful strand of Modernist abstraction fused with social realism, so you get this collision of style with political content.

LB: So each curator had specific links with their assigned city?

IB: Yes. And I think that’s a slight shift as well, because traditionally museums have tended to have their expert curators looking out across the world, as it were, and picking choice works. Whereas we decided to hand over the authorship to the people who live and work in those places or have a very direct connection with them.

LB: What brief did you give the architects Caruso St John?

IB: Although each city has its own zone, it’s not a chronology. It doesn’t survey the century, so you do get these jumps where you go, say, from 1970’s.. Tokyo to early 20th-century Paris. The brief was to try and find an aesthetic that brings the whole thing together and to provide a container for it. It’s been a real challenge because the cities are so distinct. What Caruso St John have done is to choreograph the spaces and I hope we have all worked together to create a kind of rhythm. But it’s been interesting that, even in terms of its spaces, the exhibition reflects each city’s exhibition history. For example, Vienna, Moscow and Paris tend towards smaller, intense rooms which still have a residual relationship to the salon, but New York has these huge open loft like spaces, in each case the works themselves demand a different kind of context. London and Bombay demanded to be on the street—in the Turbine Hall.

LB: Its a huge amount to see in one visit

IB: We’re going to sell day passes so that people can go off, have lunch and then come back. It struck me that it’s a bit like the Venice Biennale; it’s not unlike nine pavilions and some of them are incredibly dense with hundreds of works and others are more kind of spatial environmental utopia section. So I’m hoping there’s a rhythm to it which isn’t too much—you get a change of pace and there are some really nice juxtapositions so its not like a walk through the 20th century.

LB: Is this emphasis on the multidisciplinary and global a taste of things to come at Tate Modern?

IB: Lars [Nittve] has always said that its a kind of mission statement, partially because it’s global in its remit and that really is a major move forward. And the inclusion of other disciplines, all of that signals something about our future programme and the scale of it. It’s a unique possibility to have this much space, so you can do things that are really substantial and also bring things together across time and space.

LB: Your role?

IB: I’m the project director. We all took part in discussions about shaping the project and and I, in consultation with others, identified who the curators should be and they then helped us finally select the cities and the periods. So it was co-ordinating all that, being the editor in chief. I’ve also edited the book and written the introduction.

LB: £250,000 of corporate sponsorship, is that a record?

LB: I don’t think so because the Unilever commission for the Turbine Hall is that much each year and BT’s sponsorship for the collections is substantially more.