diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Over the last decade or so, the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern has been home to some pretty massive artworks. That blazing yellow sun, for example, or the big slides, or the stacked-up cardboard boxes. Last year the space took a year off, but as of yesterday the sequence continues with a giant wooden orange and red thing. [3 photos]

There have been bigger things. Occasionally artists use the entire length of the Turbine Hall to house their masterwork, whereas this latest one sits down the end - pretty massive, but stretching barely halfway.

It's called I Don't Know. The Weave of Textile Language for reasons half-guessed and half known only to the artist himself. He's Richard Tuttle, an American sculptor with half a century's work under his belt. Richard is the sort of guy who chops off three inches of rope and calls it art, so we're fortunate to have a more substantial undertaking suspended from the ceiling. Picture a twelve metre high wooden frame, longitudinally symmetrical, occasionally smothered in fabrics of three different hues. That's about it really.

Actually, look a bit closer and the structure's got form. The end nearest the mezzanine is distinctly aerodynamic, and those are two big wings, and the whole thing's representative of a plane or glider. And you'd never guess unless you'd been told but the creation deliberately resembles aeroplane parts in order to "raise the issue of genocide". Richard once qualified to be a pilot, then realised this would have mean dropping bombs on Vietnam, so chose a different career. I can't say I'd ever have spotted this underlying rationale unaided.

His sculpture creates "a huge volume of joyous colour and fluidity", apparently, whereas I thought it had an element of bus station about it. Segmented bays with a curved roof, creating shelter from the elements, and various bits of windswept fabric blown across the surface - that says suburban bus station to me. Obviously it's art so it's whatever you'd like to be, but you're probably on safer ground thinking aeroplane.

Yesterday being launch day all ground floor access to the sculpture was sealed off. This left viewing from the central mezzanine the only option, not ideal when attempting to view a linear artwork. But not to worry, the piece is striking enough hanging in the air... or so you'd think. Instead Richard's piece managed something I've rarely seen in the Turbine Hall before - it was mostly ignored.

Hordes of foreign schoolchildren sat nearby, but they were busy chatting rather than staring. I watched one fresh group approach convinced they were about to pause, but instead they trotted off down the stairs with barely a glance. Adults too generally gave the piece a miss. One rested on the adjacent balcony facing the wrong way, tapping into her phone, while others didn't even wander across that far. And OK, so I looked, and at least one other bloke did too, but the general level of artistic nonchalance surprised me.

One particularly unusual feature of this Turbine Hall presentation is that it's a companion piece to an exhibition taking place elsewhere. Richard Tuttle has a retrospective opening at the Whitechapel Gallery today, across two floors, including that three inch piece of rope and several much larger pieces. I think it's a clever idea, the one major gallery promoting the other, although how many of the Tate's millions of visitors will make it to the East End I have my doubts.

Anyway, the Whitechapel exhibition continues until 14th December, while the Turbine Hall's enormous wooden plane thing will be hanging up until Easter. Surely you'll be able to pop in at some point before then, if only to judge for yourself the level of spectacle or underwhelm. Not as good as the crack in the floor, rather better than the bunk beds with books on - you'll not be able to decide for yourself without a taking a view.

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