Ruin Lust – the Tate conundrum

It sometimes seems like the Tate Modern is less about the cutting edge and more a mausoleum to Contemporary Art. Aside from works in the Turbine Hall, it represents an empire more interested in expansion, than a gallery trying to make a credible contribution to the future of art.

Surely it has a responsibility to take risks, listen to the public out cry to stop taking money from BP and be a leader in expressing what art has been and could be for the public. If it wants to stay relevant in the international art scene, beyond sitting happy in a big building on the Southbank, it must start commissioning investigative and inspiring programmes, and support upcoming artists – which seem to be forgotten in a continuous stream of large scale retrospectives, save for a small space on the ground floor. Have you seen Tate Modern’s current EPC report (Energy Performance Certificate)?

Tate Britain has a team behind it that understands and projects its identity, it knows what the people want from it.

When I first read about Ruin Lust I thought it might be a pawning of Detroit and nostalgic regurgitation. In fact, it avoided this. It made connections between all that is experienced as a ruin and what one might interpret a ruin to represent. It explored the fetish of observation and discovery, rather than blandly indulging in the past.

I wouldn’t describe the show as an obsession with decay – more so, a reflection of what heritage means to a civilisation, our relationship with letting go of what has been, and what of our culture is reflected in the structures and monuments that time and change absorb.

Joseph Michael GandySoane’s Bank of England as a ruin, Joseph Gandy, 1830

The entrance housed my favourite painting in Tate Britain’s collection, John Martin’s apocalyptic works. You then journeyed through stories of urban deprivation, monuments to conflict and sites that have become ruins as a mark of the changing needs of society. The later was wistfully represented by Sir John Soane’s commission for Joseph Michael Gandy, to imagine his designs for the Bank of England, in the future. As an architect largely inspired by the ancient buildings of Greece and Rome, he wanted to see what his building would look like when it too had become a ruin. I wonder if he had predicted the 2008 crash?

1984 and Beyond Gerard ByrneStill from: 1984 and Beyond, Gerard Byrne, 2005–7

Another favourite was Gerard Byrne’s installation 1984 and Beyond, where the artist presented a re-enactment of a discussion, published in Playboy in 1963, in which science fiction writers – including Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke, speculate about what the world might be like in 1984.

Finally, Joe Tilson’s Wessex Portfolio perfectly illustrated the enchantment and association that makes ruins so fascinating. The work represents longing and legacy, it acts as a reminder that all things are changing, no structure is too permanent.

Wessex Portfolio Joe TilsonEtchings from Wessex Portfolio, Joe Tilson, 1976

On show as part of:

Ruin Lust
Tate Britain, London
4 March – 18 May 2014

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