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







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