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Tate Modern: Is it Art?

Perhaps one of the most controversial pieces to have been on display in Tate Moderns permanent collection is a piece created by Art and Language (Michael Baldwin.)

Pictured below is 'Untitled Painting' created in 1965. Medium? Mirror on canvas

My name is Jaye, and I am the gallery manager at R Young Art. Graduating from university with a degree in fine art and art history I went straight into working at Tate. I worked there between 2012 to 2018 and had the privilege of seeing the expanse of Tates collection and some of their most iconic special shows. Although only a fraction of their collection is shown at any one time. The combined total of which would likely bring tears to many of our eyes. But we are not here to talk about the monetary value of art.

Working as a visitor experience assistant I was on the front line when it came to visitor interactions and talking about people’s experiences and opinions on art. With Tate Modern seeing 3.8 million visitors in 2022 you can imagine I heard all manner of opinions during my five-year period of working there. If there was one piece on show that was often mocked, criticised, and laughed at it was ''Untitled Painting.’

Captioned 'Since the Renaissance, painting has often been likened to a window upon the world, with central perspective giving the viewer a sense of surveying what is contained within the picture frame. In a bold gesture, Art & Language turn this century-old convention upside-down by replacing the painting’s surface with a mirror. Rather than look at an image of the artist’s making, viewers are now confronted by themselves, thereby questioning a long-held notion of painting transcending reality.'

But for a lot of visitors, they just could not get their heads around it. While working there Tate began something called the 'The Bigger Picture' which invited people to write their own interpretations text offering their thoughts and reflections on their chosen piece. Often, they were other creatives, and I do believe I was the first staff member of Tate to approach with the desire to write my own. I wrote a caption for the piece, submitted it and it was kindly accepted.

This was my submission seen in the above image:

'While you stand and stare, fixing your hair, posing for a photo - you unwittingly become part of this work. Lying dormant waiting for you to fall into its gaze, the mirror captures its environment and translates it into art itself.

People walk past, seeing your reflection from afar. For that moment, your role as a spectator changes into the subject, acting as the frame and the canvas. The frame contains and limits its reach, while the canvas adapts and absorbs, creating an ever-changing image. Thats why this work is genius - art and reality are one.'

You might well read that and think I am trying to make something out of nothing. The artist of course would not have known in 1965 that in decades to come the selfie craze would drive people of all ages to take a photo in front of every reflective surface they see. That idea alone is enough to validate arts ability to transcend beyond its original ethos.

Just like great literature can be reimagined, art can too. But on the basic level it still very much conveys its original intent. Wherever that piece was positioned it would have captured something in that reflection. An ever changing, ever adaptable painting you might say.

Many people would argue but is it art? Where is the skill? How is it art? I could do that; my child could have thought of that. I could go on listing lines like that which I and other members of the team heard on the daily. Tate had a number of works that challenged people’s perceptions and really that was the whole point. Tate existed in my opinion to challenge and educate people on the vast history and expanse that the art world has to offer. Good or bad depending on who you are asking.

With a gallery like Tate, you have to view it as much as a museum as you do a gallery. After all its showing work from artists who have long passed away. Displayed as collections to highlight art that is as important contextually as it is visually. You do not have to like what you see, you don't have to understand it, but at the very least we have to respect it, respecting the artist and the piece in the grand scheme of art history. Art is all about expression, creativity, concepts and so much more.

As they say art is utterly subjective.

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