London Diary - Tate Britain

I spent an afternoon at Tate Britain, intending to check out only two exhibitions, Salt and Silver:  Early Photography 1840 – 1860 and Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process, but ended up staying there for a few hours looking at other work. In addition to the smaller exhibitions, there is Walk through British Art, 500 years of British Art that requires multiple dedicated trips to fous on. 

Here are highlights from my visit. I also want to commend Tate's website for having great content (images, video and text) for each exhibition that I can share here with you.  


Salt and Silver:  Early Photography 1840 – 1860
On till 7th June 2015  

Jean-Baptiste Frénet, Horse and Groom, 1855© Wilson Centre for Photography

This is the first exhibition in Britain devoted to salted paper prints, one of the earliest forms of photography. A uniquely British invention, unveiled by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839, salt prints spread across the globe, creating a new visual language of the modern moment.

This revolutionary technique transformed subjects from still lifes, portraits, landscapes and scenes of daily life into images with their own specific aesthetic: a soft, luxurious effect particular to this photographic process.

The few salt prints that survive are seldom seen due to their fragility, and so this exhibition, a collaboration with the Wilson Centre for Photography, is a singular opportunity to see the rarest and best early photographs of this type in the world. 

In the following video, Charlie Philips discusses the exhibition and also reflects on the people and places he chronicled throughout his career and finds much in common with the photographers featured in Salt and Silver and the work they created over 160 years ago. (Warning, contains one nude image.) 


Both images: Nick Waplington, Untitled, 2008-2009

This exhibition is a result of a collaboration between artist Nick Waplington (b. 1965) and the acclaimed fashion designer Alexander McQueen (1969–2010).

Providing a rare behind-the-scenes look into one of fashion’s most innovative and celebrated names, Waplington’s photographs capture the creative journey of McQueen’s final Autumn/Winter collection, Horn of Plenty in 2009.

The critically acclaimed collection was an iconoclastic retrospective of McQueen’s career in fashion, reusing silhouettes and fabrics from his earlier collections, and creating a catwalk set out of discarded elements from the sets of his past shows.

Waplington’s photographs reveal a raw and unpolished side of the fashion world. Candid images of McQueen’s working process are juxtaposed with rigorously produced photographs of recycling plants and landfills to create a powerful commentary on destruction and creative renewal – themes at the heart of the Horn of Plenty collection.

Here's an interview with Nick Waplington talking about his work and his experience on this project. 

Tracey Emin's My Bed
On till summer 2016   


Tracey Emin My Bed 1998© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2014 Photo credit: Courtesy The Saatchi Gallery, London / Photograph by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd

Tracey Emin's My Bed is on display at till the summer next year, 15 years after it first came to public attention when shown in the 1999 Turner Prize exhibition. It is displayed alongside six of her recent drawings as well as two Francis Bacon paintings choses by Emin.  

Love it or hate it, it is worth listening to what Tracey Emin has to say about it and why she chose Francis Bacon's work to be displayed in the same space. 

Antony Gromley's Bed
Permanent display 


Antony Gromley - Bed, 1980-1

I saw another bed at Tate Britain, Antony Gromley's Bed made in 1980-1. He used a double mirror-image of himself, "delineated in the hollows eaten out of layers of sliced white bread". 

Gormley used 8640 slices of Mother's Pride bread (minus those he ate in making the negative spaces), which he dried and dipped in paraffin wax before stacking and layering them to produce the final form. The volume of the artist's body is represented by empty space, the contours of which are defined by a surrounding environment composed of bread.

Referring to the inevitable destruction (or evaporation) of matter through consumption and digestion (solid to liquid to air), this work also suggests the body's ability to transform it into spirit. Gormley had a strict Catholic upbringing, both from his father's family (Catholic Irish) and the Benedictine boarding school he attended. 

Bed suggests the Catholic ritual of consuming the body and spirit of Christ, dually symbolised by bread, through the taking of the sacrament. The pose of the absent and supposedly sleeping figure, arms folded on the chest, replicates the traditional pose of the dead carved on mediaeval tombs. The growth of mould on the bread illustrates the life-death-life cycle literally: as one substance decays, another organism is able to take life. Bed, the usual location for conception, birth and death, becomes the ground for the transformative processes of life itself.

Karen Knorr
On till 4th October 2015 


Karen Knorr - Belgravia 1979–1981

I've only seen work from Karen Knorr's India Song series, because that's what the art fairs I attend keep showing. So I was happy to see some of her older work which I really like. I liked the format and even though the work is more than 30 years old, I found it quite relevant. 

This display brings together two series of work by the photographer Karen Knorr: Belgravia 1979–81 and Gentlemen 1981–83, which form part of the Eric and Louise Franck London Collection. Knorr’s work emerged out of debates in cultural studies that were current in the 1970s about the politics of representation.

The series, Gentlemen and Belgravia both combine image and text. Gentlemen brings together photographs taken in gentlemen’s clubs in central London with text constructed out of speeches of parliament and the news; in doing Knorr explores patriarchal values in the upper middle classes. Belgravia highlights the aspirations and lifestyle of a privileged minority living in one of the most affluent parts of London.

"Poor man's picture gallery": Victorian Art and Stereoscopic Photography

On till 1st November 2015   

I had the most fun in this part of the exhibition that was about early 3D photography. 

‘Poor man’s picture gallery’: Victorian Art and Stereoscopic Photography is the first display in a major British art gallery devoted to early three-dimensional photography.

These ingenious but inexpensive stereograph pictures were a 19th century craze, circulating world-wide in tens of thousands and more.

Pioneers of the art form were quick to challenge fine art itself. Celebrated canvases of the age, such as Henry Wallis’s Chatterton and William Powell Frith’s Derby Day, were recreated in real depth.

This display brings 12 of Tate’s Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite works face to face with a rare collection of their three-dimensional doubles assembled by Brian May. 

Yes, Brian May of Queen... 

BP Walk through British Art - 500 Years of British Art
Permanent display 

John William Waterhouse - The Lady of Shalott, 1888

I was not able to see all of 500 years of British Art at Tate Britain, but I hope to get a chance next time I'm in London. It is a terrific collection and requires multiple visits to really absorb and appreciate it. 

The BP Walk through British Art offers a circuit of Tate Britain’s unparalleled collection from its beginnings to its end. This ‘walk through time’ has been arranged to ensure that the collection’s full historical range, from 1545 to the present, is always on show.

There are no designated themes or movements; instead, you can see a range of art made at any one moment in an open conversational manner.

The Turner Collection is part of Walk Through British Art. Here's a video exploring his work.