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
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
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