Beating the Bounds, Tate Britain, London - Reviews - Art - The Independent

Beating the Bounds, Tate Britain, London

Works from the past 50 years that appear to fit a curator's agenda have no other clear relationship

Some trivia for the next time conversation flags at your dinner table: did you know that bounds can be beaten with the head of a child? Yes, beating the bounds was – is – traditionally done by choirboys with sticks of green willow, but parish edges can also be marked by bumping those same boys, up-ended, along them. Close your eyes and you can hear the howls.

This gem appears in the literature to a small show at Tate Britain called – yes – Beating the Bounds, part of the excellent Art Now series. Marking the limits of a parish is meant to sear them into the minds of the boys involved, so that beating the bounds with those minds, or at least with the skulls that contain them, does have a certain logic on its side. What all this has to do with art is less obvious.

The dozen or so works in Beating the Bounds cover half-a-century of British art-making, taking in painting, sculpture and film. No concept, though, which is odd. Given that the Tate's show is apparently about – ahem – "our being in the world", you'd have thought a bit of Martin Creed might have fitted the bill to a T. If the parish boundaries of art have been pushed outwards in the past 50 years, then it is artists such as Creed who have mainly done the pushing. But Beating the Bounds seems more narrowly concerned with tangible things – with the literal collision of the intellectual and the physical, as of young heads on cobblestones.

Thus Glenn Brown, whose intensely physical paint is also intently cerebral. When it comes to beating bounds, no one beats Brown; but then his limits are self-imposed.

Brown is an impasto-fetishist. He either takes the gooey pigment of a painter such as Frank Auerbach and renders it flat with a squirrel-hair brush, or he goes the other way and uses impasto so deep that it becomes sculptural. Examples of both tendencies are in this show. There's a flat-impasto painting, The Suicide of Guy Debord, and a new piece, Teen Age Riot, a desk so heavily encrusted in paint that it has come to look archaeological. Here, if you like, is the battle of material versus representation, and material wins hands down.

It's interesting to see Brown in the same room as his hero/nemesis, Auerbach, represented here by Small Head of E.O.W (1957-8). The German-born master is rising 80: his inclusion in Beating the Bounds aims to place him as father of a tendency in British painting of which Brown and another impastoist, Simon Ling, are younger members. Likewise with Brian Griffiths's Bear Face (2009), which sits opposite Eduardo Paolozzi's Kardinal Syn (1984). Paolozzi's tied-together plaster bust is the usual piece of overblown grimness, its word-play title matchingly heavy-handed.

Griffiths's bust also puns, although more amusingly: the work is a 10ft-high concrete recreation of the lid of a Yogi biscuit jar, which is to say that it is both bear-faced and, in the candour of its borrowing, bare-faced. But does it in any useful way descend from Paolozzi? That, maybe, is the problem. This show is full of nice things, most notably Helene Appel's painting of the sweepings from her studio floor, a one-man post-Povera manifesto. But how does it all hang together?

I've read and re-read the accompanying literature, and the nearest I can get to an answer is that most of the artists in Beating the Bounds are in some manner extreme. This may be in their handling of scale – cubic inch for cubic inch, Griffiths's bear's head is more scaled-up than the Statue of Liberty's – or it may be in their use of materials. (Brown's foot-thick impasto must surely count as an artistic ne plus ultra, while Richard Deacon's choice of glazed ceramic for his North-Fruit flies scandalously in the face of fashion.)

No matter how elegantly it has been done, Appel's focusing on floor dust is just plain obsessive. But in what way is Emily Wardill's 16mm film enactment of the parables from a stained-glass window materially left-field? Or, come to that, Des Hughes's sculptures of rusted knight attire?

The real answer, I'd say, is that some clever, young, Bataille-reading curator stumbled upon the bounds-beating metaphor, whooped with delight and squeezed his subjects to fit. That's all very well, but it leaves us with a skewed idea that good art and extreme art are one and the same, that mannerism will always win out over classicism. Actually, looking at the history of the last 50 years of British art, that seems to be true. But should it be?

Tate Britain, London SW1 (020-7887 8888) to 13 Dec

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week