Altermodern, Tate Britain, London

At last, after the sheer mess of GSK Contemporary, its a real relief to see a high-profile London contemporary art show that has a clear direction. That show is 'Altermodern'  the new Tate Triennial at Tate Britain. As the name suggests, its built around curator  Nicolas Bourriaud's conception of altermodernity, which defines an art for a globalised world, to be understood in 'relation to economic, political and cultural conditions'.


As such, the 28 artists whose work is reflected within are all responding, to some extent or another, to Bourriaud's concept which, by its very nature, is a little abstract. That said, its inevitable that some of the artists have much greater success in relating to altermodernity than others.  Bourriaud, perhaps best known in art circles for founding the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, has defined his concept as (wonderful word alert) 'polyglot', with the altermodern artist reflecting a 'contemporary experience of mobility', so maybe the wide range of responses is the whole point. Well, at least he has a vision…

Equally, as always seems to be the case in a contemporary art showcase, the results are patchy – there are some phenomenally strong works here, together with some (well, one at least – more on that later) works of almost staggering crassness.

The first thing you notice about Altermodern is the way the Tate space has been transformed – the works spill out of the gallery into the central building hall (or the Duveen galleries as they are more formally known). After recently playing host to Martin Creed's magnificent runners (Work No. 850), they have been transformed, most notably by two works; Matthew Derbyshire's 'Palac', which detournes the entrance of the gallery, forcing the visitor to redefine his own relationship with the space, and  Subodh Gupta's 'Line of Control', a huge mushroom cloud composed of stainless steel kitchen utensils. Gupta's work, whilst visually stunning, is, however one of the show's more confused pieces. It’s message is lost within its shimmering ‘wowness’.

Once inside, its refreshing to see a number of artists that have been on the fringes of large-scale Tate recognition for at least a couple of years finally arrive. Marcus Coates, whose work takes the traditional cultural concept of the shaman, clad in animal skins, and examines its role in contemporary society, a great example. 'The Plover's Wing' is Coates' most explicitly political work to date, dealing with the issues surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in a way that I would anticipate that even Tony Blair in his role as Middle East peace envoy hasn't yet tried. 

It's also great to see Olivia Plender again at the triennial. Whilst her piece included her 'Machine Shall Be the Slave of Man, But We Will Not Slave for the Machine' is perhaps the most clearly 'altermodern' work in the collection, and is definitely the most contemporary, in that it is placed directly within the context of the global recession. What the work gains from its inclusion of external current events, it loses by being, quite frankly, the most boring piece in the Triennial. 

Other fascinating works that particularly warrant closer investigation include Mike Nelson's installation 'The Projection Room', Spartacus Chetwund's (winner of the prize for best name) video 'Hermitos Children'  and, my particular favourite, David Noonan's slightly sinister sepia stage sets.

Special mention must go to Nathaniel Mellors, whose 'Giantbum', is possibly the most juvenile, insulting and idotic piece of contemporary art I've ever seen  and  I'm still (after having been back to Altermodern twice) shocked that a work so mediocre has made it in to the show. I'll let you see it for yourself. I spent both visits cringing. 

That said, Altermodern is a vibrant, fascinating and (mostly) intelligently put together show. The average pieces are more than made up for by the variation included and the overall boldness of Bourriaud's curatorial vision.

Go! Altermodern runs at Tate Britain  until April 26th


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