22 May ? 12 August 2001. Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG.
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The Tate Modern seems to be having something of a Mediterranean season at the moment. Spanish artist, Jean Muñoz, has provided the new exhibit in the gallery's Turbine Hall, and there are two exhibitions of modern Italian art – a display of pieces from the Arte Povera movement, and an exhibition of paintings by Giorgio Morandi. THE ARTIST Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) was a subtle and contemplative painter, concentrating on a 'metaphysical' depiction of objects. Working in his Bologna studio, Morandi very much limited himself to painting similar scenes over and over – still life paintings of bottles and boxes, and the view from his window. The objects Morandi selected for his still life paintings transcend time – they have no labels, or any details to indicate the time of painting. Similarly, there is little in the paintings of the view from his window to reveal anything of the time at which the paintings were made. There are no figures, and buildings are almost exlusively represented by blocks of a single colour. THE EXHIBITION The exhibition at the Tate Modern consists in the most part of paintings that Morandi produced after the Second World War. There are only five rooms to the exhibition, which are well lit, primarily by artificial light. Paintings are hung on white walls, and the floor is laid with bare wooden boards. In each room of the exhibition, text on the walls explain what is on display in that room, often accompanied by quotes about Morandi's art from other artists. The first room of the exhibition has just a few paintings, giving a brief chronology of Morandi's still lifes. His earlier work seemed more surreal, with abstract objects depicted floating in space, where his later works consisted exclusively of scenes of the same bottles and vases. In the second room, entitled 'Architectonics', the pieces displayed reflect the connections between Morandi's
painting and the language of architecture, with Morandi exploring the relationship between the objects and their surroundings. The depiction of the objects themselves was often as important to the artist as the space between them. The paintings generally show very similar still life arrangements, with cups and bottles simply painted with subtly different arrangements, and from subtly different angles. The third room looks at Morandi's drawings and series. The two series displayed show two virtually identical scenes painted by the artist in his effort to find "the perfect order". One series is based on the Tate's own 'Still Life' by Morandi, and the other series show the view from Morandi's studio. More interesting than the series though, are Morandi's drawings. For me, these were possibly the most fascinating part of the exhibition, confirming the artist's obsession with the space between objects. In the drawings on display, the artist focussed largely on the shape of the spaces between the objects, rather than on the details of the objects themselves. The result is a series of almost abstract lines. The fourth room examines those paintings of Morandi's where he experimented with the introduction of a new element to his now familiar still life paintings – the edge. These are paintings where Morandi arranged the same objects close to the edge of the table, creating a sense of "confrontation with the void of existence". In all honesty, the paintings incorporating the edge of the table looked fundamentally little different to me from those where the edge of the table wasn't shown. The text on the wall of the gallery explained that the incorporation of the edge illustrated the "isolation and futility of individual experience", and suggested that "Morandi [was] undergoing personal anxiety." Sounds like rather too much was being read into a single line to me... Th
e final room of the exhibition looked at Morandi's late works. His later works featured less fine detail than his earlier work, and were more abstract. Most of the objects in Morandi's later works lacked much texture constisting of just a single shade. CONCLUSIONS While this is unquestionably an impressive collection of Giorgio Morandi's work, it is ultimately makes quite a dull exhibition, in my opinion. The rooms are well lit, and the paintings are nicely presented, but unfortunately Morandi's lack of variation in subject matter render the exhibition depressingly monotonous. As I say above, probably the most interesting part of the exhibition are Morandi's sketches of the almost abstract shapes separating the objects in his still life paintings. Certainly, the exhibition is unlikely to be worth the £5.50 admission fee (£3.50 concessions), unless you are studying art, or have a particular interest in Morandi. Of course, if you're a member of the Tate, you can get in for free... which represents much better value. A quote on the wall of the exhibition from American artist Chuck Close sums up Morandi's work very well – "I personally couldn't care less about a bunch of bottles – but I'm sure glad Morandi could." Morandi was very influential in that his work caused other artists to examine the composition of their paintings, however, for a non-artist, his work gets very repetitive.