Saturday, August 25, 2018

All Too Human - Diversity at Tate Britain

I went to the All Too Human - Bacon Freud and a Century of Painting Life exhibition at Tate Britain yesterday. The Spring and Summer have been full of other activities - and sunshine - and I suddenly realised the exhibition closes on Monday!
All Too Human explores how artists in Britain have stretched the possibilities of paint in order to capture life around them. The exhibition spans a century of art making, from the early twentieth century through to contemporary developments. London forms the backdrop, where most of the artists lived, studied and exhibited.

I'm not going to comment on the art as everybody has their own perspective and the reviewers from the newspapers have given it a thorough going over (see links to their reviews at the end).

Instead I'm going to comment on something that struck me this morning when reviewing the names of who was in the exhibition - and who was not.

Key points:

  • it's an exhibition of c. 100 paintings by SOME of those considered by SOME to be leading modern British painters (i.e. made their names in the 20th century)
  • it includes a significant number of works by Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon 
  • it's about painters in Britain who represent 
    • human figures, 
    • their relationships and 
    • their surroundings
  • it has very few women painters. Notably Paula Rego gets a room to herself and there is a large painting by Jenny Saville - but other female painters are less notable than the chaps.
  • there's an effort at diversity (as in 'tackle the checklist') - in terms of ethnicity - but it's not very persuasive. 
and it wholly misses a VERY notable point about diversity in relation to "British Painting" - see below


It's very definitely an exhibition of paintings by people with very diverse backgrounds - although very little is made of this.

It hadn't really occurred to me before this exhibition just how diverse "British painters" in the 20th century were.

Map of locations: Blue = artist studios; Red = Art Schools; Green - galleries

List of locations of Artists Studios and who is linked to which London Art School

The art (mostly paintings) are by artists who had some sort of association with London - with some being members of the so-called "School of London" - and very many underline the diversity of nationalities in the capital - and in the field of painting in the 20th century.

So they include......


Born in:
  • Germany - 
    • Walter Sickert (1860-1942) - born in Munich; moved to Britain in 1868 following the German annexation of Schleswig-Holstein
    • Lucian Freud (1922-2011) - born in Berlin Germany; moved to UK in 1933
    • Frank Auerbach (1931 - to date) - born in Berlin; naturalised British citizen since 1947; studied at Saint Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art
  • Ireland - Francis Bacon (1909-1992) - born in Dublin; moved to UK in the 1920s
  • India - FN Souza (1924-2002) - born in Goa; moved to London in 1949
  • Portugal - Paula Rego (1935 - to date) - born in Lisbon; sent to school and later college in London in 1950s; moved to UK in late 80s
  • USA - R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007) - son and step-son of immigrants/refugees; moved to UK in late 1950s and settled here

First generation sons and daughters of immigrants

So we have

Plus those born in the UK 

Mostly outside London!

and finally.... artists who are very definitely NOT British 

I have absolutely no idea why they are included in the exhibition if it is supposed to be about Modern British art and artists! (Other than access to the artwork?)

The questions I was left with

I was left wondering about:
  • The notable artists INCLUDED who do NOT paint from life - even if they paint flesh
  • The notable artists EXCLUDED who do (or did) paint from life or their lives and contexts
  • Is it just about some outdated and skewed view of 'The School of London'.
Plus - in relation to the backgrounds of the artists
  • Is immigration a major feature in the biographies of great British Artists? Frequently? Sometimes? Only in this exhibition?
  • What is "British Art" and a "British Artist" - two questions which had never occurred to me before...
Bottom line, I was just left greatly puzzled as to the FOCUS of the exhibition and its scope and wondered whether it exemplified a classic case of "Curatorial Creep" i.e started with a good idea - and then kept adding things in.....

In other words what was the idea or question it was addressing - and did it meet its brief or pitch for space for an exhibition?

Anybody got any ideas?

You can't comment on this blog (I've suspended comments) - but you can comment on the post relating to this blog post on my Facebook Page


If you're still umming and erring whether to stir your stumps in the next couple of days - here's the reviews
These stuck to comments on the paintings without too much thought about the purpose of the exhibition

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