THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN: Paul Klee, Tate Modern

In an ideal world you would be able to walk around the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern choosing Christmas presents for your family and friends… the pictures are such desirable objects, almost everybody finds them charming and most pieces would not require more than a single sheet of wrapping paper.

It is the modest scale and sweetness of Klee’s work that has stopped him from being valued as highly as his Modernist contemporaries and yet his imagination and invention surpasses all but a few of them. He was abstract before almost everybody else, he was surreal before the Surrealists and he explored technique for its own sake in a way not seen again until the Minimalists.

The extensive Tate exhibition is a pleasure from start to finish, which is not to say the art lacks darkness; on the contrary, a sense of the sinister or uncanny is present in almost every work on show. Klee’s childlike drawing and paintbox use of colour don’t conceal but rather reveal an extraordinary, elegant and sophisticated personality. He said “I want to be as though new-born, knowing nothing, absolutely nothing… ” He would have been 134 years old yesterday.

Paul Klee – Making Visible continues at the Tate Modern until 9 March 2014, more information and book here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Chris Kenny.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN: Roy Lichtenstein, Tate Modern

There’s no denying the cultural presence of Roy Lichtenstein – his expansion of comic book graphics is now more identifiable than the original genre. Along with Warhol, he narrowed the gap between art and life and made possible all the pop oriented art from the 60s to the present. The show at Tate Modern attempts to celebrate Lichtenstein’s inventiveness and creative personality beyond the mere appropriation of comic book imagery. By showing his redesigning of the source material (most obvious in the Tate’s 1963 painting ‘Whaam!’) they claim an autonomy and originality for him previously ignored.

On display is early and late work that has not been seen in the UK before that suggests an undiscovered variety within his narrow idiom. Lichtenstein was keen to assert the handmade-ness of his work so as to maintain his fine art credentials, but the early work is surprisingly slapdash and the mature work is so mechanical and perfect that the artist’s touch is invisible. The large room of his classic War and Romance pictures is undoubtedly the highlight of the exhibition, full of punchy, eye-grabbing icons – he is a consummate designer – however the curators’ ambition to present him as a subtle master with covert psychological depth is ultimately unconvincing.

Exhibition continues until 27 May 2013, more information and book here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Chris Kenny.

Damien Hirst, Tate Modern

The new Damien Hirst exhibition at Tate Modern is essentially all about dots, death, decay and diamonds. Thinking back through the collection every piece seems to fit into one of these dramatic categories.

Forever making a statement, Hirst’s work aims to shock and surprise and though I can sometimes be cynical of this (generally) overrated artist, I was impressed with the display and variety in the Tate’s exhibition.

The show is the first major survey of Hirst’s work to be held in London and features the most famous and controversial works from throughout his career. Born in 1965 in Bristol, he grew up in Leeds and while studying art at Goldsmiths, achieved recognition from the exhibition Freeze, which he curated in 1988. He became known for his daring and provocative works such as the shark suspended in formaldehyde, ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ 1991.

Perhaps the most disturbing pieces in this show are the poor animals chain-sawed in half to create symmetrical parts. Set in tanks of formaldehyde the organs are still and serene, now merely an object replacing life. In one of the first rooms a recently detached cow’s head is skinned, raw and bloody on the floor, flies swarm around, it is foul and yet captivating. It is called ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990) and supposedly captures a whole life cycle.

The organised pill cabinets are perhaps the most aesthetically satisfying and pleasing pieces in the show. Colour coordinated tablets sit on thin silver shelves as part of a huge work. ‘Lullaby, the Seasons’ (2002) is really quite beautiful, layers and layers of multicoloured pills, medicine as art soothing the eye just as it remedies our ailments.

There is some excitement to be had in the installation ‘In and Out of Love’ 1991. Guests are invited into a specially maintained humid enviroment where white canvases embedded with pupae hatch and live butterflies flutter freely amongst the visitors. Again Hirst touches on themes of life and death, beauty and cruelty. In the adjacent room colourful pictures are made by dunking dead butterfly wings in paint.

The final rooms show Hirst’s more recent preoccupation with money, wealth and specifically diamonds. Pieces holding thousands of pounds worth of meticulously arranged glittering diamonds sparkle unlike anything you have ever seen before. It is like entering a chest of jewels, and doesn’t feel real. These opulent works revisit old ideas but now in an entirely new form.

Whatever your preconception is, the Damien Hirst is definitely worth seeing, even if just to fuel your curiosity.

Exhibition continues at the Tate Modern until 9 September, book here.