IoS art review: A Bigger Splash, Tate Modern, London

2.00

Two painters make a solid start, but what follows is endless sixth-form performance art

After a couple of minutes in Room One of Tate Modern's new show, A Bigger Splash, you find yourself fighting the urge to throw your cap in the air and cheer. Such daring! Such insight! Such curatorial cheek! By the time you reach Room 13 – unlucky for some – that impulse has long since faded.

In the show's brazen first room are two canvases, one each by a pair of painters as unalike as any whose careers ever overlapped. (David Hockney was at art school when a drunk Jackson Pollock ran his car off the road.) On the left is Pollock's Summertime of 1948, exhibited, like a Roman mosaic, on the floor. The reason why is spelt out by a film on the wall above it.

This shows Pollock at work in his studio, flicking paint at a canvas at his feet: we are invited to look at Summertime horizontally because that is how it was made. The Hockney, too, comes with a matching film, in this case of the artist's house in Los Angeles, self-conscious young men bobbing around naked in its pool. Both film and canvas are called A Bigger Splash, whence the name of the Tate's show.

So far, so odd. You may by now be asking what these two apparently dissimilar works have to do with each other, and the answer is, nothing at all: that is why they are here. The exhibition's subtitle is Painting After Performance, and its aim is to trace the link (or links) between the two subtitular artforms, one as old as Apelles, the other in its rapidly grizzling sixties. Hockney and Pollock act as a pair of brackets, the vast gap between them suggesting the breadth of the connection between performance art and painting since 1948. But there is a problem.

When the American critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term Action Painting in 1952, he – and, by extension, Action Painters such as Pollock – seemed to anticipate what we now call performance art (or "live art", if we are being groovy). Actually, Rosenberg was merely describing one half of a split in painting that is as old as paint itself.

Painters have always sat somewhere along a line between making images and making marks, hiding or revealing themselves in their work. The ruggedly heterosexual Pollock sits with, say, Frans Hals at the far end of the show-yourself tendency, his splats and blobs a form of self- portraiture. Hockney's painting, by contrast, is firmly in the Poussinesque closet. Its smooth surface reveals the artist's milieu, but hides the mark of his hand. A Bigger Splash isn't just an image, but the image of an image – a painting made to look, with its markless paint and bare canvas border, like an Ektachrome slide. Its devastating blandness comes from its layers of inscrutability.

And what has this to do with performance? Well, nothing. Films may exist of Pollock and Hockney at work, but that does not make them performers, and certainly not performance artists. To see the work of either man in that way is to misunderstand it. Perhaps Room One is itself meant as a kind of performance – cheeky, in-your-face, but not to be believed. At least it is entertaining. What comes in the 12 rooms beyond is not, and is not good art history, either.

The trouble, maybe, is that the show gets things the wrong way around: really, the story it tells is of performance after painting, not vice versa. When, in Room Five, Bruce Nauman covers and then uncovers his body in paint in the 1968 filmed performance Flesh to White to Black to Flesh, he is doing something new by way of something very old. Likewise when the French New Realist, Yves Klein, encouraged naked models to smear themselves in paint and rub up against his canvases, or when Niki de Saint Phalle fired paint-filled ampoules at a gallery wall. The Poured Paintings of the Viennese Actionist, Hermann Nitsch, may set out to undermine the traditions of paint on canvas, but they do so by putting paint on canvas. It is the performers who feel anxious about their place in the paint/performance equation, not the painters.

And so they should: God, performance art is tedious. I can count on one finger the performance artists whose work I would cross the road to see, and her name is Marina Abramovic (not represented in this show.) Otherwise, it is sixth-form philosophy, a library of dull romans à clef with clunky, badly oiled keys, acted out instead of written down. And there is so, so much of it.

To 1 April, 2013 (020-7887 8888)

Critic's Choice

London will be stuffed with photography exhibitions this winter. Start with Ansel Adams's dramatic black-and-white images, which capture the grandeur and wildness of America's forest, peaks and coastal scenery. Photography from the Mountains to the Sea is at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich until 28 April.

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'