On Saturday I went to the Tate Modern... Or rather, I went to the Tate Modern briefly and then walked to the Tate Britain and spent a somewhat longer time there.
The Tate Modern has a very non-intuitive entrance leading into the cavernous turbine hall. It's spectacular - a huge cathedral-like industrial space... with a speaker mounted somewhere in the roof constantly looping a voice which was how I imagine a guy faking a female orgasm whilst hiccuping would sound (no idea what it was supposed to be).
The ground floor has a large bookshop/shop, cafe and cloakroom behind glass doors. We began on the first floor where my first remark was:
"What's that supposed to be?"
My companion, formerly known as The Squire but who now looks rather more like a smart-casual goth computer programmer (no offence :D ), stood under it, looked exasperated and said "A plug". Yep, that's right, a 6ft long 2-pinned plug made out of wood. After the scattered broken wooden furniture in the shape of an axe, the large object that looked like an oversized metal fan heater and the canvas with a slash in it... my companion's eye-rolling and general frustration had increased to the point where he informed me he was leaving. I was curious to know what was on floors 3-6 but he said that life was too short to wander about the Tate Modern. Thus, we went to the Tate Britain instead.
Due to their Turner, Whistler and Monet exhibition (which we didn't visit), they had put out a lot of Turner. Thus, I've seen probably more Turner paintings than... insert frequency of choice. I especially enjoyed the paintings by Watts especially these . More Watts here.
Although Turner did a lot of [repetitive IMO] traditional scenes (rooms of them), Francis informs me that as he got older he focused on his strengths and did a lot of background and far less foreground (his backgrounds were far superior to the figures he did at the front). This is an example and the painting I liked the most out of the whole exhibition. His work with light and the forces of nature, etc. was stunning. Francis kept pointing to his images of natural disaster and saying "Doesn't this say more about the nature of human suffering than anything produced by the Young British Artists?"... After a while, he won the argument :)
He pointed out that past painters had real craftmanship out of necessity and that the only merit of modern art was originality yet if something had never been done in the past, there was probably a good reason. The contrast between the two galleries was profound. I can look at a scene like this and feel moved by the use of light and colour, the power of the image and the force of nature it represents... I can look at Julian Opie's air vent (check first floor Tate Modern site under 'After Duchamp' - lots of prize examples) and feel precisely nothing. It's just dead, vapid, passionless. It's disposability might be the point but TBH I don't care about it enough to really give it any thought. It says nothing -it may as well actually *be* an airvent for all I care.
The Squire has converted me to his point of view (from my ambivalence or general 'ha, ha look at that' mentality to dubious modern art) - if you want to make a point about colonialist oppression or AIDs or feminism then at least do it properly, with some degree of skill, power and intelligence! I guess that theoretically makes me elitist but actually, I think a fair bit of 'sensationalist' modern art is elitist. It hides the fact it's unadulterated pap that the artist thought up one morning on the toilet and then paid someone to hammer together by pretending that if you 'understand' it, it will all make perfect sense. You shouldn't *need* to understand it - that's why it's art and not a book. If it requires an essay on post-colonialism, you're missing the point. The fact is that non-elitist art is generally well-crafted, powerful and often attractive. That's why people like it.
As an aside, I had a long argument over whether Dali was better than Matisse, i.e. whether being weird for the sake of looking pretty without anything to say was appropriate (I keep thinking he must have meant Magritte because Matisse was modern but not a surrealist AFAIK) and I'd say yes. Francis says "No". He thinks that Matisse knew what he was doing and was saying something, whereas Dali was just being weird in the interests of aesthetism and this didn't make him as good an artist [or maybe I'm misrepresenting the argument here :( ].