Elton John’s Museum of Captured Souls – Tate Modern’s The Radical Eye

Tired and grumpy, all art was quite, quite, useless.
I went into the Tate Modern’s new Tank area of harsh, strong grey concrete foundations and my main thought was what use this might be for the zombie apocalypse, or any other apocalypse for that matter. I am beginning to think the zombies will be pipped to the post when it comes to ravaged society.

I went upstairs and stared at the Rothkos. I couldn’t see if any of the paint drips appeared to have dried upwards. Feeling fretful, if I stared long enough, I think the canvases were beginning to work for me. The late career Monet waterlilies outside almost anaesthetised my pessimism.

I liked the rehung first floor. I am beginning to obsess about Magritte.
I aim to fill my day with pointless This is Not A Pipe dreams.
People were taking photos of themselves with the paintings.
On tetchy days, this makes me tetchier.
Don’t take a photo of yourself with a painting. If you must, take a photo of yourself in an environment so beautiful it should be a painting.

I was meeting my whimsically aggressive friend, Michael Legge. We were going to look at The Radical Eye exhibition, “modernist photography from the Sir Elton John collection”.
Like a jaded and spent Sadean duke, I didn’t know if I had the energy to look anymore.

Welcomed by an Irving Penn photograph of Elton John, which he reckons makes him look like a crazed Alan Bennett, and I think has a touch of a Ralph Steadman Polaroid.

I had been warned that Elton John’s picture frames were as ostentatious as his 70s spectacle frames, but few were that ostentatious, just shiny.

It started with portraits. Smaller and greyer than most walls in the Tate, it took me a few minutes to acclimatise. There was Man Ray’s image of André Breton, a couple of portraits of Dali and a series of Irving Penn photographs of celebrities who are pushed into the sharp and tight corner of a room. Michael was particular taken by Noel Coward squashed against the wall.

It was poverty that captured my heart.
Always fortunate to be a tourist in that department.
The second room had the works of Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston and Walker Evans.
I like a monochromatic assortment of planks in carpentered arrangement.
Ansel Adams’ “Christ or Chaos”, a church in Hornitos is full of people coming and going, but no one is in frame. You can hear a sermon echoing. Who is going to hell today?

Robert Frank’s Paris photographs and Ilse Bing’s Greta Garbo Poster peeling off back street bricks are similarly stark but soon populated by what you can find in your imagination.

Despite the frequency of exposure, the pictures of the poor by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans are still sharp and tragic, perhaps even more so as we see a political climate darkening. Would these be the 24% Trumpophiles, or are they more likely the 49% who don’t vote at all, the poverty stricken who cannot be forgotten as they barely exist at all in the endless flagellation and dissections.

Is there an irony on how much photographs of 1930s poverty are worth now?

I have no memory of seeing The Damage is Already Done, Shacktown. I couldn’t have seen it before, because it cannot be forgotten. There is some truth in the photographer being able to steal the soul.

Where did she go? How long did she live? How have we made a new generation when we thought we lived in some modern world? Wasn’t the washer drier TV dinner 50s future and dreams of moon bases meant to obliterate this?

On the opposite side to poverty and failed human ambition are the images of human structures, the dreams that were made from steel – Toni Schneider’s Rail Spider or Margarate Bourke White’s NBC transmission tower (godammitt, isn’t it all that transmission that’s magnifying all the bullshit now?) The geometry of industry.

Watching the short film of Elton John in his Atlanta home, walls barely showing a millimetre of naked paint behind the multitude of photographs, I imagine this is a tiny sample of his collection.

I would happily see a follow up dealing with 1950 onwards.

I think I will be returning a few times in the next few months, and once exhausted, I’ll sink into the quiet concrete of the Tate’s tank and blend into an Irving Penn brutalist corner.

I left wondering, is the damage already done again?

Then Michael nearly caused me to get done of shoplifting with his tediously lengthy browing at hummus, and we both said stupid things in stupid voices, and everything was back to normal as we used the coping mechanism of being old idiots.

Latest Book Shambles series includes Alexei Sayle, Nick Offerman, Sarah Bakewell, Lisa Dwan and lots more HERE

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3 Responses to Elton John’s Museum of Captured Souls – Tate Modern’s The Radical Eye

  1. Glen says:

    It’s so easy, in these times of high speed sharing of a million photographs of absolutely nothing every single day, to forget how incredibly powerful a story a photograph can tell. We take it for granted that the world will be interested in a picture of our breakfast while ignoring images as inspiring as these.

    The whole Selfie thing at things like this is mind-boggling – put the phone down and actually be in the moment rather than pretending you are. I once watched a parent spin his child around at a parade outside Buckingham Palace, just as the horse guards were going past, so that he could video themselves with it happening behind them. Neither of them actually watched it live. Madness.

    The irony of images of poverty holding such value is not lost at all, but then the story that it told, of the need for change and for the truth to be seen by those who had been blind to it, was priceless. Whether or not this change actually happened would be a completely different question.

    Thanks for this – you’ve inspired me to try and visit an exhibition that I’d otherwise have ignored.

  2. Glen says:

    It’s so easy, in these times of high speed sharing of a million photographs of absolutely nothing every single day, to forget how incredibly powerful a story a photograph can tell. We take it for granted that the world will be interested in a picture of our breakfast while ignoring images as inspiring as these.

    The whole Selfie thing at things like this is mind-boggling – put the phone down and actually be in the moment rather than pretending you are. I once watched a parent spin his child around at a parade outside Buckingham Palace, just as the horse guards were going past, so that he could video themselves with it happening behind them. Neither of them actually watched it live. Madness.

    The irony of images of poverty holding such value is not lost at all, but then the story that it told, of the need for change and for the truth to be seen by those who had been blind to it, was priceless. Whether or not this change actually happened would be a completely different question.

    Thanks for this – you’ve inspired me to try and visit an exhibition that I’d otherwise have ignored

    (Sorry if I’ve double-commented – WordPress confuses me and I couldn’t tell if the comment went in but is awaiting approval etc. or I simply gaffed up the whole thing. I’m a cool guy (just not much use with WordPress) 😐

  3. Pingback: In pastels, oil paints and struck marble, I see hope – favourite exhibitions of 2017 | Robinince's Blog

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