ON POETRY, WRITING AND RANDOM CULTURAL MATTERS

Friday, 15 May 2015

Tracey's Bed and other things at Tate Britain

So there it is again, the sheets are still filthy dirty, the litter, used condoms, tampons and other detritus are still, well, there. Her slippers are still naff and the pair of tights is still slung on top of the duvet. But honestly, what was the fuss all about? It's strange looking at something that caused such a furore at the time. I liked it's iconoclasm when it was first put on show in 1999. I like it still. If you've never seen Tracey Emin's My Bed it in all it's glory, off you go to the permanent collection. Enjoy people's reactions.

But while you are there, think seriously and twice about going to the other current exhibitions. I was pretty underwhelmed by Sculpture Victorious because it is so much of a mishmash: partly about the Great Exhibition, party about sculpture in 1800s, but a bit all over the shop for me. It never does for me to enter an exhibition into a first room of sculpture of a monarch, Queen Victoria in this case. I'm Welsh. We don't do the royal family.

However I was astounded to learn that something like 6,000 elephants were slaughtered for their ivory every year to meet British demand alone in the mid-nineteenth century. The only good things to my jaded eye were a Byrne-Jones I have never before spied of Perseus and the Graeae (part-painting part-metal work, not exactly a sculpture), the Eric Gills and my favourite python-wrestling hero by Leighton.

Salt and Silver sounded promising, being as it is about early photography (salt paper prints) and the works are to be admired for technical achievement, but the subject matter is rather predictable and frankly dull, with one exception. The photographs from the Crimean War are worth a good look. I was especially taken with one of a cantiniere, who despite being in a campaign had time to lace her corset and pull in her perilously tiny waist.

The third exhibition, and yes, I did spent the best part of a day there, is also of photography  - Nick Waplinton's collaboration with Alexander McQueen, no doubt timed to coincide with the block busting show at the V&A. I am a big fan of huge glossy prints and the space to enjoy them, but I was more than a little bemused by the fashion shot, plate, costume  juxtposed (sic) by pictures of rubbish, literally and in close up, by which I mean plastic, broken glass, black bin liners and the like, all in sordid detail. It seemed a bit graduate show to me, but hey, make up your own mind.

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