Tate: 'hypocritical' show celebrates art vandalism
Critics lash Tate exhibition about the destruction of art and the 'pernicious drivel' in its catalogue
IF Tate Britain intended to stir the pot with Art Under Attack, a major show about the deliberate destruction of art, it has succeeded. The Daily Telegraph's Richard Dorment was so appalled by the exhibition he wishes it had been "strangled at birth".
"If you decide to visit Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm don't expect to see much in the way of art, don't expect to learn anything new, and don't expect to enjoy the experience," he writes in a scathing one-star review.
The exhibition starts with the familiar story of the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, then moves on to "sacrilegious annihilation of religious imagery" by Edward VI. Later on, it turns its attention to political acts of destruction such as suffragette Mary Richardson's attack on Velasquez's Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery in 1914.
An essay in the catalogue accompanying the show, describes such politically-inspired acts "not as vandalism against the nation but as vital contributions to the freedoms now perceived as inherent to British national identity". Rather than vandalism, the essay says, they are part of "a creative process".
Dorment describes that view as "pernicious drivel" and an "open invitation to any person or any group with a grievance to target works of art hanging in national museums".
Writing in The Guardian, Jonathan Jones agrees that Tate Britain can't champion art vandals as artists without risking "massive hypocrisy". Indeed if acts of vandalism are so interesting, he asks, why does Tate's show not include Mark Rothko's Black on Maroon, a painting defaced by a visitor to the Tate Modern gallery in October last year.
The vandal, Vladimir Umanets, was prosecuted for criminal damage and jailed for two years.
Writes Jones: "It seems strange for the Tate to flirt with celebrating art vandalism when in reality, if you scribble your name on any of the art here, you can be absolutely sure it will prosecute."
Jones also takes issue with the quality of some of the works on show which were deliberately defaced by artists as part of a creative process. For example, One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved II (No 6), 2008, a work by British contemporary art duo The Chapman Brothers, detail above, which deliberately defaces a 19th century portrait.
"We're supposed to think this is hilarious," writes Jones. But the Chapman Brothers' disfiguring of portraits "could only happen in a cynical moneyed art world that has no soul. They have the cash to buy oil paintings in order to trash them. Their clients find that kind of thing amusing."
Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm is at Tate Britain until 5 January, 2014 ·