There are few greater pastimes on a rainy Saturday afternoon than visiting one of London’s most popular and iconic museums.

The Tate Gallery is an institution that houses British art, International modern and contemporary art. Situated on Millbank, it is part of the network of Tate galleries. The London Tate is the oldest gallery in the network, having opened in 1897.

Modern and contemporary art are unusual concepts, or could be argued have evolved to become unusual concepts. Unlike other artistic periods such as Impressionism, Neo- Classicalism even Renaissance art, Modern art does not have a concrete mould, a set of defining structures or artistic sensibilities that delineate the period.

There are real pluses for the kind of artistic freedom that result from contemporary art. Artists are no longer required to conform to a set of formulaic rules or guidelines. Contemporary artists have a unique and unparalleled control over their work, which in turn produces pieces art that are transparent physical manifestations of the artists’ makeup.

Despite this unprecedented artistic freedom, there are downsides to such liberty. Firstly, under the concept of modern or experimental, anything can be classified as ‘art’. For an example, a quiet stroll around the Tate’s many gallery rooms will enlighten viewers as to the many pieces of ‘art’ which are fawned off as ‘experimental’ or ‘minimalist’ pieces.

A blank canvas hanging on a bar white wall is not, in my opinion, art. It is a blank canvas. The artist can proposition it as he or she likes, but at the end of the day. what artistic ability does this work reveal? These pieces in the gallery rely on their synopsis; a short 500-word spiel the artist writes to show off to the viewers his artistic merit. Basically he or she attempts to enlighten us all as to why he chose to hang this particular blank canvas on this white wall. In the synopsis artists rely on words such as ‘postmodern depiction’, ‘fluidity of the earth’s core’ and the ‘humbug or our modern or technological induced society’. It is a mish mash of very long and complicated words, that really don’t make any sense, but when put next to the piece somehow make the art far more meaningful than it actually is.

For an example, there was a section of a room dedicated to a French artist, Yves Klein, who decided that his artistic temperament followed the lines of a canvas painted from head to toe in cobalt blue. There were no gradients; no contrasting colors not even a smidgen of light, just cobalt. He called it ‘IKB 79’, and his reasons for such minimal art was a ‘rejection of the idea of representation in painting and therefore attaining creative freedom’.

'IKB 191', International Klein Blue, housed at the Tate.
‘IKB 191’, International Klein Blue, housed at the Tate.

Then there is Gerhard Richter who, judging by hic work, was highly influenced by fellow minimalist Yves Klein. In 1974 he produced an oil paint on canvas titled ‘Grey’. He says that he was ‘attracted to the neutrality and inconspicuousness of the colour’. In his synopsis he further highlights the reason behind his single grey canvas what that he want to ‘resist ideologies of any kind’.

These works don’t play with texture or lines, shadows or even depth. They are merely flat pieces of art with one base colour on top. A detailed and in-depth 500-word synopsis cannot hide the fact these works of art are one-dimensional pieces that are seemingly quite easy to produce.

This is not to say that modern or abstract art is not interesting and multi dimensional. Tracey Emin is an English contemporary artist known for her autobiographical and confessional work. Her 1997 ‘Everyone I have ever slept with 1963-1995’ is a rather confronting but stimulating piece of work. Her work housed in the Tate Modern is particularly good.

As is of course Andy Warhol. A pinnacle artist of the pop art period his Marilyn Diptych (1962) and its infusion of death and the cult of celebrity leaves a potent resonance for the viewer. The fact that it is a series of twenty silkscreen portraits of Marilyn Monroe, a figure who so many of us can identify, marks it as his canonical pop art piece.

Warhol 2
Andy Warhol’s Marilyn

And finally, many works by the great Pablo Picasso are housed in the Tate Modern. He is considered a leader in the definition of plastic art, as well as being responsible for the invention of the constructed sculpture. Picasso’s work somehow manages to blend modern musings with finely tuned delicate lines. He removes himself from the Spartan artists who prefer fine drawing, an example that is evident in Leonardo Di Vinci’s Burlington House Cartoon, but still manages to display a sense of real artistic intelligence and finesse in his work.

The gallery houses 45 pieces by Picasso and they are certainly well worth the visit to see. His Bust of a Woman (1909) is a unique example of Picasso’s treatment of the human figure in Cubanist form. His dark, muddy tonal palette and his shifting brushstrokes enhance the depth of this painting. This work is a culmination of different artistic temperaments and cultural musings, a highlight from his collection at the Tate Modern.

Bust of a Woman (1909)
Bust of a Woman (1909)

Modern art is not everyone’s forte. There are some artists who try and push the boundaries of experimentalism producing works that are very difficult for the viewer to connect with. One dimensional and flat canvas pieces are an example of this. However, the works of Picasso and Warhol are highlights of the Tate. It a gallery that is well worth the visit, if just to see a selection of Picasso, Turner, Warhol, Dali and Emin’s work.

The Tate Modern is open weekdays from 10am-6pm, till 10pm on Friday and Saturday. 
 To view a selection the works housed at the Tate visit,

Words: Catherine McMaster
Images: My own and Creative Commons.
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