Review: “A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance”

reviews A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance, which excitingly brings together the two forms of artistic practice

Venue: Tate Modern, London
Date: 14th November 2012 – 1 April 2013


A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance aims to bring together two forms of artistic practice that are normally thought of as opposites, and aims to explore the development of painting after performance.
Beginning with ‘a big splash’ with two well-known pieces, David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash (1967) and Jackson Pollock’s Summertime (1948), the Tate explores the creative thinking and processes behind the paintings, highlighting the similarities and differences.

Hockney may seem a random inclusion when compared to the energetic works of Pollock. However, teamed up with a short BBC documentary about the making of the artwork, it becomes clear that A Bigger Splash is a perfectly captured moment of movement and velocity, enticing the viewer to jump into the pool that it depicts. The splash of water has a performative quality similar to that of Pollock’s Summertime. Set on opposite sides of the first room, Summertime is an ‘arena in which to act’, as argued by the critic Harold Rosenberg, with the canvas becoming the literal tracks of Pollock’s movement across the surface. Deemed to be one of the earliest pieces of performance work, the painting is appropriately teamed up with Hans Namuth’s film, depicting the artist’s movement and paint splattering onto the canvas beneath him. Bringing together painting and performance, with the help of video documentaries, the viewer understands the relationship between the artist and their work.

The ’performance’ side of painting is seen through the use of various video recordings depicting the creative processes of particular artworks. The juxtaposition of video performance and artwork is compelling, allowing the viewer to jump into the world of the artist, and transforming the still and static paint of the canvas into a piece full of life and history.

The first half of Painting after Performance takes the viewer on a whirlwind exploration through a wide range of performance artworks and themes. The work of Yves Klein, an organiser of public events in which nude models were covered in paint and became ‘live brushes’ to create pieces of artwork on blank canvases, advocates the idea of paint extending beyond the canvas to the human body. This notion is also explored through the world of Viennese Actionism, a group of Austrian artists reacting to the political events in their country; experimenting with paint on walls and floors, as well as using animal carcasses and blood. The exhibition explores painting as an agent of transformation, challenging views of gender and beauty, such as through Cindy Sherman and Sanja Iveković in the 1970s and how the artist can transform themselves through the medium of make-up, costume, and drag.

In the second half of the exhibition there are rooms dedicated to individual artists and contemporary groups. Exploring and proposing how these present-day artists have been influenced by performance art, the individual rooms are somewhat overwhelming. With several spaces made up from room-sized installations of stage sets, they become detached from the notion of painting, with the exhibition focusing more on performance, when really it should be the other way round. Karen Kilimnik’s romantic and emotionally charged melodramatic space of Swan Lake (1992) is static and motionless, presenting anything but a performance. The inclusion of such set designs creates a tenuous link to the exploration of painting after performance, and intensifies the exhibition’s haphazardness in its display pieces and the premise behind its own title.

An exhibition that starts strongly, Painting after Performance doesn’t flow as well as intended. Using highly theoretical aims, the show fails to come to any neat conclusion, especially when attempting to explicitly answer the principle behind its own title. However, overall Painting after Performance provides an interesting insight into performing art, and offers the viewer plenty of artworks to come up with their own interpretations regarding the creative process of art.

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