Art and Society – Tate Modern

The section Art and Society at Tate Modern showcases how social and urban changes influence arts during the twentieth century.

Ongoing collection display

I took the pictures around the gallery.

New perceptions of abstract forms, the use of natural lights and the sense of purity, are all elements that we find in modern art influenced by the São Paulo Biennial. Many artists also use artworks to reveal the “dark side” of urban innovation and economic rise.

I liked the exhibition at both levels: for the different techniques the artists employ to recreate a sense of depth in space and for the cultural criticism portrayed through some works, which I refer to the theories of the urban historian and city planner Lewis Mumford.


Hélio Oiticica, Metaesquema. 1958

Presenting new artistic and architectural concepts, the Tate dedicates a room to the innovative training of São Paulo Biennial, where both Latin American and European artists, rejecting traditional artistic techniques, introduce new forms of geometrical abstraction.

The oil paint on canvas by Mira Schendel reconsiders the conventional idea of abstraction by using asymmetrical forms, different textures and organic elements to create a sense of spacial depth. The classic European abstraction is so reversed approaching the neo-concrete Brazilian art.

Mira Schendel, Untitled. 1963

Natural lights and formal simplicity, as central aspects of modern urbanism and architecture, are reproduced in the arts too. The 1934 shallow relief of Ben Nicholson particularly expresses the importance of these two elements. He indeed uses only white and grey geometrical forms and intelligently plays with shadows and lights to achieve a three-dimensional effect.

Ben Nicholson, Relief. 1934

What Lewis Mumford claims to be the major failure of urban planners is the negligence on the matter of the social functions of the city itself. He argues that to fulfill social needs is crucial in the pursuit of addressing urban activities and preventing the chaos.

The city (is) a special framework directed towards the creation of differentiated opportunities for a common life and a significant collective drama. L. Mumford, 1937

During the mid-twentieth century, while the western world is living a period of rapid economic growth, urban planners concentrate new projects on the city’s expansion, often sacrificing the importance of people’s necessities. Increasing inequality within the city collective drama, this process has brought to several social and artistic changes.

Many artists in fact reflect the controversies accumulation of wealth introduced by the Conservative party, giving to their artworks a profound social meaning.

“Demolished”, a series of photographs by Rachel Whiteread, portrays different tower blocks in East London (Hackney) being leveled between 1993 and 1995. The piece represents the opposite faces of urban modernization: on one side, the great architectural development accompanying new economic objectives and, on the other side, the dramatic impact on homeless people.

Rachel Whiteread, Demolished. 1993-6


These are only few of the works, including oil paintings, wooden and metallic sculptures, and photographs, exhibit at the “Boiler House” at Tate Modern, investigating the ways in which art tries to mirror new historical realities.

Marwan Rechmaoui, Monument for the Living. 2001-8

Should I go?

I suggest you to have a look to this exhibition, discovering how modernism led to different perspectives on art’s significance and on its formal composition.

Rating: 7/10 (considering variety of exhibit objects; rooms design; accompanying historical information and contexts; crowding; price; enjoyment)
Cost: free







Guest Post: “Passage/s” – Victoria Miro Gallery

The talented photographer Penelope Lisi reviews the ongoing Do Ho Suh’s exhibition “Passage/s” at the Victoria Miro Gallery.

Until the 18th of March

If you want to see more about Penelope, have a look to her wonderful Blog  penelopelisi
Instagram @penelopelisi


Last week I finally visited the much-talked about Do Ho Suh’s Passage/s at Victoria Miro Gallery.

I needed to see with my own eyes the reason of the insane success of this exhibition.

I knew that the South Korean Artist has been working and reflecting on the idea of home-space for long time and I was curious to see how he materialized his thoughts into this gallery space.

So I walked in the gallery with very high expectations, with my camera ready and hungry to shoot.

The first room introduces you to Suh’s world, displaying large-scale experimental “drawings”, made of colored gelatin tissue and threads, forming the skeleton of the images appearing on cotton paper. The result is a room with walls covered by huge colorful panels representing architectural details familiar to the artist, mainly entrances and doors. Apart from one, my favorite: Staircase. 


This extraordinary piece represents a shiny red spiral staircase that twists and turns, ending in nothingness, interrupted. The staircase attracted me because of its close resemblance with a contorted human body, reminding me of the close connection between the different spaces we inhabit: the home and the body. The strong feeling I had while looking at this red striking artwork made me feel very close to the artist’s mind and made me understand his purpose. This is what I think art should aim to.


After this first great start, I continued to the second part of the exhibition. In the biggest room of the Gallery II stand the one-to-one scale Hub, London Apartment, fabric architectural structures, materialization of the shapes and places that left a mark in Suh’s life: in this case part of his London house, combined with his childhood home in South Korea and other relevant spaces throughout his life. The stunning installation stages transitory passages, connection spaces in between places, shifting from a representation of the artist’s own private experience to a more global reflection on movement and transition between countries and cultures. The semi-transparent materials which the walls of the Hubs are made of communicates an evident blurring of the line between private and public, but also between reality and imagination, almost suggesting a dream atmosphere.


“I see life as a passageway, with no fixed beginning or destination. We tend to focus on the destination all the time and forget about the in-between spaces”, Suh said.

And maybe it’s because I feel my experience to be close to that of the artist, always passing through, almost floating, crossing confines between one culture and another in search for a destination, that I was so touched by Suh’s work. I think that the artist’s way of expressing the feeling of the “in-between”, of the passage from a place to another without engaging with the transitory space, is incredibly strong and direct.


I strongly suggest visiting this exhibition to anyone who sees and experiences London as a transitory place, a passage between two cultures, two countries, two stages of life. Visit it to linger in a space between the real and imagined, past and present, fixed and fluid and to be totally amused.

Should I go?

So, as Penelope suggests, don’t wast time and go to visit this extraordinary South Korean artist until it is on!

Rating: 9/10
Cost: free

My 6 top blogs – art & culture

  1. Mimo Khair Photography
    “Art is Life, Life is Art”. The photography style of this very talented Shanghai-based blogger is mainly based on documentary and street photography.
    Her impressive and varied collections are culturally and politically relevant.
    I loved the collection Misplaced-Refugee and Street Children portraying striking pictures of Syrian children refugee in Lebanon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    The uncertainty of things to come. Misplaced-Refugee and Street Children, M. Khair ©mimokhairphotography
  2. Atlas Minor
    This is the notebook-blog of James A. Reeves. He documents personal experience, such as road trips, street observations, or profound phycological introspection, producing engaging and readable essays.
    I have been particularly impressed by his piece Philosophy as an Ambulance, in which he explores some academic thoughts about the grieving process in relation to the death of his father. The author’s considerations result to be genuine and accurately exposed.

    Encyclopedia Britannicas. Slab City, J. A. Reeves ©atlasminor
  3. Eyes plus Words
    “Let’s come together and share a story or two”. Jacob Ibrag involves the readership in his variety of storytelling by combining personal thoughts, quotes or poetries with allusive pictures.
    My favorite entry shares the portrait of a woman on a blue background accompanied by a poetry of Ibrag, which refers to the inscrutable mystery of the female thinking.

    Slight. ©eyespluswords
  4. My OBT (One Beautiful Thing)
    This is the blog of a New Yorker who, at one point in her life, made the great decision of taking some time every day to focus on something beautiful.
    The blog mainly reflects her passion for fashion and art.
    I really enjoyed the entry about Harper’s Bazaar campaign of photographically recreating the painted dancers of Edgar Degas. I appreciated the blogger’s comment stating that in Degas’ paintings each dancer has the same profundity within the composition, whether she is on the foreground or in the background, and, contrary to this, in the shots of Misty Copeland, the America Ballet Theatre’s dancer, the subject seems to “pop up” out of the picture.

    Pas de Degas. Ken Browar & Deborah Ory, Harper’s Bazaar
  5. A Girl’s Voyage
    Blanca, a young student, created her diary blog recording her thoughts, travels and daily experiences, offering nice stories and tips for places around the world.
    She made a valuable Geek’s guide of London, including the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street, a Harry Potter shop and dedicated platform at King’s Cross station, and the Doctor Who shop and Museum in East London.

  6. Artbacchant
    “Drunk on arts”. This is an entirely visual blog exposing paintings, mostly oil on canvas, form the 19th Century Impressionism. Sometimes it also posts evocative photographs from 19th and 20th Century.
    My favorite painting recently posted is the Young Beauty with Poppies by the French painter Émilie Vernon (1872-1919)

    Young Beauty with Poppies.©artbacchant

Marina Abramović, “Rhythm 0”

A table, seventy-two objects, and a woman.


Rhythm 0 is the art performance of Marina Abramović currently hosted at the Tate Modern. Be prepared of witnessing something extraordinary.

Ongoing performance reproduction

Do you remember that episode of Sex and the City, when Carrie met the famed Russian artist Aleksandr Petrovsky at an art gallery opening?
The two met for the first time during the performance of a woman living on a maisonette in the gallery for 16 days without eating or drinking. Carrie, who loved more brand shoes than provocative forms of art, was sceptic and believed that the performance was not so serious. Petrovsky, then, proposed her to go back to the gallery together by late night to verify if the woman was still there or not. At 3 am, they saw the performance artist still vigilant in the gallery room, without food or drinks, staring amused at the two unexpected visitors.


This memorable episode for the lovers of the series has been inspired by Marina Abramović, who did the same performance, titled The House with the Ocean View, at Sean Kelly Gallery in 2002. The Serbian artist indeed, particularly popular and awarded in the early 2000s, is worldwide renowned for her impressive, sometimes disturbing, art performances.

Today in London, we can witness a reproduction of one her most acclaimed exhibitions: the Tate Modern is hosting Rhythm 0, a performance originally showed in Naples at Studio Morra in 1974.

The performance, at the core of Tate’s section “Art of Participation”, consists in a long-rectangular table, covered by a white cloth, where are exposed seventy-two different objects, including a gun, knifes, shoes, a mirror, a whip, flowers, a brush, a newspaper. Above this table slides are projected on the wall showing images of the original performance: the artist was standing next to the table for six hours and visitors were meant to use the objects on her as they wish. Then, the artist affirmed that sometimes it resulted to be very risky as people acted aggressively by using objects towards her.


Abramović reverses the role of the artist and the observer. The artist is no more the one who produces art, but she is the art itself, she fully objectified herself by turning into the seventy-third prop. And we, as viewers, are not more passive audience, silently contemplating the performance, but we are invited to actively participate in creation of art.


I visited the exhibition with my best friend and we have been particularly impressed by the variety of the exhibit props. We asked ourselves what the public could have done with knifes, feather or flowers on the artist…
The slides display different shots with the artist, at the center behind the table, surrounded by the visitors and props. Sometimes, people give her flowers while she is sitting on a chair, holding photos, and showing her nude breast. But in the most dramatic pictures, one throws a glass of water on her head or others from the audience fasten her body with chains putting a knife between her knees.
I believe that, entirely entrusting her body to the visitors and letting them play with pain and relief, Abramović wants to prove that art is a conjuncture between the two. She revealed how every art manifestation is a “memento mori”, an embodiment of life and death of the author, that performs both creation and destruction.

Marina Abramović created a provocative and diversified performance, sometimes strong, sometimes more emotional and romantic, that makes you reflect on how people manage their chance of freely contributing in the production of meanings.

Should I go?

If you have the chance to visit the Tate Modern, absolutely take some time to explore this great example of the participatory art.

Rating: 8/9 (considering the enjoyment, the room’s design, the social context provided by surrounding pieces of different artists, the price)
Cost: free

Rebecca Horn, “Body Sculptures”

The collection Body Sculptures by Rebecca Horn made me think about a revolutionary Italian writer. I rediscovered the relativism of Luigi Pirandello by visiting Horn’s exhibition at the Tate Modern.

Ongoing performance reproduction

Inevitably we construct ourselves. Let me explain. I enter this house and immediately I become what I have to become, what I can become: I construct myself. That is, I present myself to you in a form suitable to the relationship I wish to achieve with you. And, of course, you do the same with me.

L. Pirandello, The Pleasure of Honesty, 1925

The relativistic concept proposed by the 1900s author, Luigi Pirandello, argues that we have a multi-faced personality shaped through different individual and cultural factors: our beliefs, the social structures we live in, the people or texts affecting us, etc. The Italian novelist speaks about a “mask”, a constructed modern identity, that we are forced to wear in the presence of other people. The mask helps us to interact with people, accomplishing their expectations and preventing us to be judged, and, at the same time, it armed individuals against what makes them feel vulnerable and unconfident. In this way, we are both protectors of ourselves and aggressors against the surrounding environment.


The German artist, Rebecca Horn, through the collection “body sculpture”, reminded me the dualist aspect of Pirandello’s mask. She plays with objects and different materials to both extend and protect her body. After having been diagnosed with a severe illness, she had to stay in bed for several months completely isolated, so started to draw wearable sculptures exploring extensions and limitations of human body. Once healed, the artist produced these objects, as constraints or protheses, made by wood, feather, fabric and plastic, creating participatory art performances.

The exhibition at Tate Modern hosts Horn’s body sculpture highlighting the artist’s intention of transforming the relationship between the individual and the surrounding space.

Arm Extensions (1968)

The body of the performer, entirely supported by two thick stumps wrapping her arms, enters a new spacial and physical dimension. She can’t move, seems paralyzed, but something is evolving on her body: during the performance, the more her arms got used to this particular harness the more she felt detached from her own body creating, instead, a sense of fusion between herself and the ground she was standing on. The artist has no more the same body, identity, now she is part of something new.

Mechanical Body Fan (1973-4)

The artist here is able to swing the mechanical body fan as she wishes, deciding which part of her body showing to the viewer. This is what Pirandello describes as a common human attitude: according to the person we are relating to we act differently showing enhancing or hiding aspects of our personality.

In the Triangle (1973-4)

The wearer of the sculture here is the height of a triangle, that represents the geometric extension of human body into the space. The triangle connects the individuals with the landscape but also isolates and protects them from other people/observers.

Cockatoo Mask (1973)

My favorite piece is the Cockatoo mask. The artist wears a feather mask: the one who stands before gently touches the mask that opens like the wings of a bird and encloses the heads of the two, isolating them together. For me, this performance reveals the significance of granting one person to see what we hide behind the mask. According to Pirandello we are one, none and a hundred thousand, but sometimes there is that special individual in our lives that is allowed to see us in our true intimacy.

Should I go?

I really suggest you to go and enjoy this thoughtful exhibit performance.

Rating: 8/10 (considering consistency of artworks, design of exhibit rooms, knowledge outcome, enjoyment and price)
Cost: free