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
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

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.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?