Sunday, 1 April 2012

Tate Modern:Boetti and Kusama Exhibitions

In January I had been encouraged to go to the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at Tate Modern by Linda Bolton, who wrote a guest post for the blog and has a good understanding of how much a visually impaired person can enjoy some modern art.  Without being specific, Linda said I would enjoy it. (We have since exchanged views on the exhibition.)

I contacted Marcus Dickey Horley at Tate Modern saying that I would try to visit and that having found out how to get there on my own, my hip problem meant that I would have to go nevertheless with a friend.  Marcus came back suggesting that I ought to also take in the Alighiero Boetti exhibition which had just opened and that if I needed any assistance to let them know.   Luckily Stephen (who had taken me to the Gerhard Richter Exhibition) offered to take me. He had seen the Kusama show and had not been too impressed. Another friend said the reviews did not make him want to take me though nevertheless offered to take me to the Zoffany Exhibition at the Royal Academy instead. 

The Boetti and Kusama exhibitions are on Level 4.  This can be reached by escalator or by lift (elevator)  We spent about 4 hours at Tate Modern:  viewed the Boetti exhibition, had lunch, viewed the Kusama, had coffee (cappuccino is an art form on level 6) and went to the shops and viewed the level 2 area which is outside and reached from the embankment.  I am hoping to go again to the exhibitions but these are my first thoughts and memories to which I have added some notes taken from a recording which we made of our conversations.

Visiting exhibitions or shows has, I am told, had an influence on my painting.  Some friends claim to detect Richter/Hockney influences in some of my work.  I am showing a painting I did over 2 weeks.  Val was showing me the application of some pigment with a palette knife.  I thought one of my paintings could do with an off centre ocean so I worked some “blue” giving a tactile effect to it in the process!

Azure - Bay
 © Prof Whitestick

Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan

Boetti was born in Turin, which is famous for cars, high technology and a movie (The Italian Job) with Michael Caine. Boetti employs many materials and designs objects and collages and what could be described as framed art work.  Some items are very large and I could make them out from a distance. His ideas are worth a “second look” and I was glad that Stephen noticed a few repeating themes which I could later identify.  Indeed, Boetti decided to form his own group after rejecting Arte Povera and there is a chart which has all the members of his group with identifying marks which were shared but had a unique combination.  This was laid out in a grid with simple geometry which I could detect. Boetti’s meticulous drawings are on display and the clear angles were discernible as were the final sculpture. 

In a scene reminiscent of the Gerhard Richter “Tote”, there is a body laid out.  It is, however, Boetti sunbathing in Turin and framed by panes of glass in the back. This body is made from ceramics.

1000 Rivers

Boetti illustrates the futility of measuring everything and seeking to classify the length of rivers and order them.  Issues such as where is the source, is the left bank different from the right bank and what happens in a delta are raised with running the names of the rivers together.   Boetti collaborated in this with his wife Annemarie Sauzeau.

Maps of the World

In one of the rooms there is a series of world maps which were made in Afghanistan.  Boetti had travelled extensively during the pre Soviet invasion in 1979 and gave work to men who embroidered large tapestry maps and weaved rugs.  Boetti designed and others carried out the work.  In one of the world maps the oceans were coloured in pink and not blue.  The story was that the Afghans had no idea of the concept of oceans, being landlocked and they had a lot of pink to use.

From school I can remember that for a map there has to be a minimum of 4 colours. This allows borders to be clearly marked.  The maps had flags of the nation states and Boetti had noted changes of state names and politics. In a map of the UK there was a Union Flag (Union Jack) over England + Wales, Scotland was a blue grey while Northern Ireland was orange with the Republic coloured with the tricolour. This was in 1969!

28th March

The above was written down a few days after my visit and these notes are from a recording which I made with Stephen. This won’t win any prizes as we were not sure when the recorder was running and my mobile phone, also in my shirt pocket, picked up some interference.  

The title of the “Show” is Gameplan and this refers to the play Boetti makes on many techniques. After the 2nd room there is no chronology and the show can be enjoyed by wandering around. We nevertheless followed the route for the most part and stopped at items which we both wanted to explore in more detail.

Boetti established a “classifactory” process where he would initiate, design and then leave others to complete.  In his first solo exhibition in Turin in 1967 he made objects out of industrial materials including corrugated cardboard, aluminium, varnished wood, fibre glass, steel rods, wire wool, spaghetti  an lighting devices. There are assembled piles of varnished wood range from yellow to cobalt dark shades.  Stephen noticed about 40 clusters.  I could make out the overall shape but missed out on the shades of the wood. On leaving the room I noticed a pair of flashing lights on either side of the door, they said Ping and Pong and flashed one after the other. The symbols chosen for the group resembled “Bassetts Dolly Mixture and liquorice Allsorts!”


X38945 Stretched cloth 2x3 metres with a 2m hand rail in front.

X39052 Lithograph Showman

A chessboard with squares of about 2 inches made of rusty steel with squares of tracing paper giving the chessboard effect. I noticed this on my peripheral vision when navigating to an item hanging on the wall.

Order and disorder is a subject where Boetti has formed letters from the Italian and mixed them up in sketches and later used the results for other works.

X38350 - 2m square formed from paper dots arranged.

X38338 The sighted vedete.

X38635 Boetti has assembled a montage of glossy magazine covers from Vogue, Economist, Elle , Scientific American, Il Mondiale, Le Figaro but these have been drawn on paper with pencil from issues of 1990.


In talking about the maps of the world I made a comment about the Hajj Exhibition maps of the Middle East and an alternative projection other than that of Mercator.  Regarding the Afghans not knowing the colour of the ocean, there was a programme on BBC Radio 3 on Schubert settings of Goethe’s poetry of Sicily and some sea descriptions. Schubert had never seen the sea and had only visited the Austrian lakes.


lo che prendo il sole a Torino il 19 gennaio 1969 (Me Sunbathing in Turin 19 January 1969)
Guatemala 1974 4 photographs
La Mole Antonelliana 1970-75 - 7 stamped postcards

Yayoi Kusama

Kusama was born into a middle class Japanese family and used materials from the family nursery and horticultural business to use as artist’s materials which were in short supply.  She also made use of sacks.  She moved to USA and in some way predates Andy Warhol by 3 years in painting by repetition.  This is obsession par excellence and her pen strokes when repeated and assembled form patterns which I could recognise.  Any scientist familiar with Wave Theory would recognise peaks, troughs, beats and both sound and light effects (Young’s slits with single slit and double slit)

To say that Kusama was obsessive is putting it mildly.  In some of the work there is definitely a single theme of bits of male anatomy. Everything is apparently in what Grayson Perry called Herms.

Notes from the recordings:

Room 7

Series of repetition themed items with a collage of airmail stickers. Kusama had to be supported secretly by her family and the collage in 1962 has the theme of letter writing as the point of communication. 

Room 10

Kusama adjusts to being a voluntary In-Patient in a hospital. Using the hospital as a base she returned to running a sculpture studio.  The accumulations series which had resulted in a motif has by now changed to snake like coils or as Stephen said, like entrails.

Revived soul 1995. Acrylic on canvas X34402

This was probably the first item we enjoyed. It may have been that we were tired and it was after lunch.   This is a large painting triptych 1.5 m by 4 metres. Black background with dots applied. The dots vary in size from a pin prick to dots about 12 mm across. This gives an undulating effect rather like the folds of a curtain. The effect is like snake skin, though when I saw this from a distance it seemed clear enough but in the installation it is not possible to view it in any other way than from an angle. There is an assembly of what appear to be cushions of various sizes piled up.  The cushions have paint applied to the fabric and some spray paint on the edges.

Room 11

Kusama has by now (1980s and 1990s) returned to painting with acrylic on canvas. Installations were multi-canvas thus “extending the visual field”. There is something haunting about these paintings and in some I could imagine an eye. 

Earlier work of Kusama had shown eyes with caterpillar eyebrows.  Her repetitions are by now of the polka dot or tadpole variety.

Yellow Trees 1994 Acrylic on canvas X34380  Brown/yellow on black 1.2 m by 4 m

The final installation is a big surprise! This is one of two which I enjoyed and seemed to be popular with younger people and families.  There is some basic entertainment with the use of polka dots in the dark with some UV lighting picking up the polka dots. The exhibition has by now come alive for me and I enjoyed the last few rooms. 

In summary the Kusama was a very slow burn and the obsession can grate unless you can pick up the visual tricks. The last installation is the culmination and one enters the lit world after having been at a slight advantage within a dark room with polka dots, mirrors and a maze type path which, I suspect, disorientates the others but we cane users are used to tapping and navigating our way round obstacles.

Late-night Char is Filled with Dreams 2009
I Want to Live Honestly, Like the Eye in the Picture 2009