Don’t be deceived by the title. A Bigger Splash, Tate’s final show of 2012, takes its name from David Hockney’s iconic 1967 painting depicting the moment after a diver has plunged into a Californian swimming pool. One thinks back to A Bigger Picture , Hockney’s blockbuster which inaugurated London’s exhibition season in January. Framing a year that saw the launch of Tate’s Tanks and the first performance artist shortlisted for the Turner Prize, both shows consider one of the most perplexing issues of today’s art scene: how – whether – painting can survive in an age of spectacle and performance.
Hockney argued that it could. Tate answers with a divided exhibition that is partly a substantial historical survey, partly a devastating refusal to acknowledge the complexity of painting’s future.
An opening face-off shows two of Tate’s most popular pictures, “A Bigger Splash” and “Summertime”, displayed flat on the floor as the canvas lay when Jackson Pollock drip-painted it in 1948, alongside a pair of the best films about artists ever made. Canonising their subjects, both Hans Namuth’sJackson Pollock ’51 and Jack Hazan’s A Bigger Splash changed the cultural image of the painter. Namuth’s dramatic account turned Pollock from oddball loner into the first American artist-superstar, a chain-smoking, jeans-clad enfant terrible. In Hazan’s insightful, improvised portrait of Hockney and his circle (Celia Birtwell, Ossie Clark, Henry Geldzahler), the painter’s life and art converge – the birth of modern celebrity.
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