Sunday, 23 February 2014

Beautiful Boxes: Up to Tate

Things discussed: Tate Modern, guilt, Surrealism, dream, poetry, good ideas, bad seats

written by e

Talk of the Tate without being boring, redundant, repetitive?

The Tate Modern is great in so many ways: accessibility, richness, beauty and vastness of space, variety and value of works, selection of exhibitions. The permanent shows to enjoy for free and the temporary ones to see for a fee. Not to mention common areas, toilets, and a bunch of accessory services. It’s hard not to fall in love with it.

This is to say I’m almost feeling guilty here: there’s one teeny little thing I didn’t like in an organism so beautifully complex and organised. On the second level of the permanent collection ‘Poetry and Dream’ - over 70 works from the surrealists and their entourage - the second room ‘Surrealism and Beyond’ has works on the walls in the most random positions. 

Works big and small hang close to one another toying with the rule of the straight line. Some very small works are almost too high to be seen. I saw confused visitors who couldn’t tell which caption described which work. And the captions weren’t bad at all: well done, wide, and clear. Not their fault.

The aim behind this setup was to make the room’s theme evident – poetry and dream. The disorder would be symbolic, with images scattered in space, in incongruous positions or unexpected combinations, just like they do in dreams and in surrealist poetry. As obvious as it was, I think curators must keep themselves within certain constraints, the intelligibility of what’s shown above all else. A compromise could have been found, a less extreme disorder could have been shown, the whole show would have been more appreciable. 

I was a bit suspicious as I walked on and in the following rooms. Soon enough, though, the visual noise of that room was dispelled. Works were again given the right space and breath, and I completely forgot about the start.


To make the story short, I’ll end here this whispered post: it’s not a big deal. It wasn’t such a big slide on their part. The experience was pleasurable and rewarding: that was just a tiny stain.

The point is: not always a good curatorial idea makes for a good setup. You know it in design: too many uncomfortable chairs are still made today. The first thing a designer should think about is to make the objects accessible and the users comfortable. 

So should curators and museums.

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