Focus on the Sixties at both Tates

Conceptual art - Tate installation shot 2

Tate Britain seems to offer rather pedantic treatises on art, in an attempt to showcase its collection. Conceptual Art in Britain 1964 -1979 (until 29 August) is exactly this – a dull and boring collection of works from a largely self-conscious era where British artists agonised over the nature of art, rather than just creating it. The result is glass cases full of worthy words, walls lined with black and white text and more than one stifled yawn. Perhaps it is a result of years of school projects, but I am averse to artworks that need to be explained rather than experienced. The term conceptual is not to be confused with contemporary, but whatever may have been radical in those wild decades has been removed entirely from this exhibition.

 

Across the river at Tate Modern, Performing for the Camera (until 12 June) gives a much more interesting glimpse of what was going on elsewhere in that period. In France Yves Klein was orchestrating naked women writhing in paint or launching himself into the void, while in New York a clothed Yayoi Kusama was painting spots on naked bodies on Brooklyn Bridge. Although it starts in the Sixties, this show takes one up to the present, with Ai WeiWei smashing antique Chinese pots and Eastern Europeans commenting on mail-order brides. Allowing the work to speak for itself, the show effectively traces the back-story of today’s selfie.

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