Reviews, News and Commentary

New Tate exhibition filled with light, colour and drama

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum 1822, restored 2011 John Martin 1789-1854 Purchased 1869

Auckland Arts Festival
Light from Tate: 1700s to Now 

Auckland Art Gallery
Until June 25

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

In the pursuit of capturing their images of the world artists have never been far from creating images where  light plays a part in their real, metaphysical and metaphorical depictions. The importance of the sun as life giver and symbol of the divine has been around for centuries and the allegory of  Plato’s Cave whereby individuals discern only the shadowy  images cast by light stresses the importance of light in the creation of art works.

The exhibition “Light from Tate: 1700s to Now” touches on this  philosophical enquiry into the nature of light as well as its  historical, scientific and aesthetic aspects.

The exhibition  featuring more than 70 artworks from the Tate Gallery outlines how artists have responded in their search for, and the use of light over the last three hundred years across different media. The show also provides several mini-exhibitions such as the group of nineteenth century English landscape artists including Turner, Constable and John Linnell. Then there is a boutique show of Impressionism with Monet, Sisley and Seurat and one of German abstract photography of the early twentieth century as well as an impressive group of Josef Albers’ works.

Study for Homage to the Square: Departing in Yellow 1964 Josef Albers 1888-1976 Purchased 1965

It was only since the Renaissance that artists focussed on light to major extent. Leonardo da Vinci  studied the  optical properties of light and showed how light could  be used to create perspectives and shapes. Later artists such as Georges de La Tour used light to create dramatic scenes in which there were a few defined light sources while  Vermeer made light a vital part of his paintings.

One of the first works in the exhibition is almost the antithesis of the other works in the show. This is Anish Kapoor’s sculptural work which features a velvety black interior from which it seems all light has been sucked out  leaving a void.

Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis exhibited 1843 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

In contrast to the Kapoor are four Turners, which, from a distance look like abstract paintings but closer inspection reveals their religious and spiritual connections with “The Angel Standing in the Sun”.  The landscape tradition is referenced with “Sun Setting over Lake” and there is a  scientific basis to “Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory)”.

Other early nineteenth century works include the dramatic “Destruction of Pompeii” by John Martin and Joseph Wright of Derby’s “Vesuvius in Eruption” where the artist uses both the light from the eruption and the moonlight to illuminate the landscape and the shimmering sea.

Harwich Lighthouse ?exhibited 1820 John Constable 1776-1837 Presented by Miss Isabel Constable as the gift of Maria Louisa, Isabel and Lionel Bicknell Constable 1888

There are also a few John Constable’s such as “Harwich Lighthouse” where we see the artists interest in painting aspects of light with his focus on .cloud formations which take up two thirds of the view.

The group of Impressionist works show the way these artists aimed at capturing the fleeting effect of light on scenes and objects. In Monets “Japanese Bridge the light has infiltrated the greens and blues making them glow like some  molecular form or his “The Seine at  Port-Villez where the light has seems to have washed out the colours.

As if in a musing on the Impressionists. Yokai Kusama’s “The Passing Winter” creates a  contemporary Impressionist work with light, colour, reflection and repetition and Pae White also has a take on Impressionism with her “Morceau Accrochant”, a three-dimensional shape of dense varied colours like a flock of birds or flurry of leaves.

Nataraja 1993 Bridget Riley born 1931 Purchased 1994

One aspect that really none of the art works address is the prismatic qualities of light. The one work which  touches on this is Bridget Riley’s “Natajara” with its sliced-up slivers of primary colours which jostle and flicker on the canvas.

There are several contemporary light installations which explore various dimensions and qualities of light from Dan Flavin’s  elegant homage to the skyscraper and Tatlin to James Turrell’s “Raemar Blue” in a meditative space, There is also Liliane Lij’s “Light Reflections where two globes rotate over a surface referencing planetary movements and the role of the sun.

Stardust particle 2014 Olafur Eliasson born 1967 Presented by the artist in honour of Sir Nicholas Serota 2018

Danish artist Olafur Eliasson is included with two impressive works. One is “Yellow versus Purple” where viewers walk through the rotating, coloured shapes which are at the ends of the colour wheel.  The other is “Stardust Particle” where two rotating  shapes display the aesthetic and scientific properties of light, creating a universe of light.

Accompanying the exhibition is a catalogue edited by Kerryn Greenberg, former Head of International Collection Exhibitions at Tate with a foreword by Gallery Director Kirsten Lacy

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By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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