` Century City - Art and Culture by Verinha Ottoni ©

Century City - Art and Culture - Tate Modern

On 21 April 2001, I was at the Tate Modern to see the exhibition Century City - Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis.

The exhibition focused on nine cities around the world at specific moments over the last 100 years. In Africa and Asia we look at Lagos, Mumbai (Bombay as it used to be known) and Tokyo; in the America at New York and Rio; and in Europe at London, Moscow, Paris and Vienna. All these cities at particular periods have acted as crucibles for innovation in the arts. They have all, in their different ways, been innovative as regards to art and architecture, dance and films, literature, music and design. While each of the cities have their own distinctive artistic culture they also have a global influence.

The survey begins in Paris at the moment when Fauvism was supplanted as the great avant-garde movement by Cubism as in Picasso's Three Figures under a Tree (1907). From 1905-1915 Paris gave us The Ballets Russe which electrified Paris with Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Nijinsky giving a scandalously erotic performance as the goat god; and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was given its first performance in Paris. Gino Severino's Suburban Train Arriving in Paris busts through the outskirts of the city, scattering hills and houses.

Freudian turbulence in Vienna flourished during the same pre-war period when Schiele and Kokoschka produced images of disturbing portraits of nude children and adolescents, concerning sexuality in children. These images were as discordant at Schoenberg's music. But nothing could stop the frenzied atmosphere of Moscow in the 20s when the Russian Revolution drove artists to produce Supremacist work with Utopian zeal. Suspended above my head was Vladimir Tatlin's Glider summing up the soaring optimism of the Russian Revolution's early years. Soon the Utopian dream faded and the Moscow section ends with Vera Mukhina's porcelain figures of an Industrial Worker and a Collective Farm Woman heroically advancing towards the future with raised hammer and sickle.

By the mid-50s Lagos had become a vibrant centre of art generated by African independence. Wole Soyinka's video's show the publishing rhythms of African music and J. D. Okhaai Ojeikere's photographs of Nigerian hairstyles reveal and fantastic precision and sub-cultural inventiveness of the city's burgeoning salons.

For Japan Yamashita Kikuji's painting Encounter (1971) shows the Tate Emperor Showa being confronted with victims of Japanese atrocities in the Second World War.

Rio's famous Bossa Nova (or New Wave) appeared in the late 1950's as a quiet revolution in Brazilian popular music - a combination of cool jazz, bebop, samba and classical music. There was Cinema Novo. The Bossa Nova was the height of laid-back "cool" epitomised in Antonio Carlos Jobin's song The Girl from Ipanema; and Brazil's first World Cup victory occurred in 1958 giving the country great esteem.

New York in the early '70s was said to be the "Paris of the '20s" according to the artist Laurine Anderson. Despite being on the brink of financial collapse the city became the centre for an explosion of creative activity. At its heart was the downtown district of Soho (a parallel here with London's Soho) with its dingy basements, empty warehouses, rundown lofts and bars. Now, I might add, the area of Soho has been re-generated (to use the "in" word) and is a much sought after area in which to live and on of the most expensive. The late John Kennedy Jr. (son of Jackie Kennedy) had a loft in New York's Soho when he died after his private plane crashed killing him and his wife.

Bombay (now Mumbai) is very much on the map as regards to film-making - its famous Hindi film industry is known as Bollywood, so much so that Lord Andrew Lord Webber is featuring the industry in his new musical due to open in June at the Apolo Victoria. It is to be called Bombay Dreams. It will be interesting to see how he tackles the subject: he rarely produces a "Loser".

Henry Bond is one of the artists featured in the London section; taking photographs rather as a tourist would in London, but they are in no way the usual tourist like photographs - his are all fragmented moments.

Verinha Ottoni.


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