Tate Modern Social Realism

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  • Topic: Tate Liverpool, Bankside Power Station, Tate
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  • Published : January 4, 2013
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As soon as I stepped into the Social Realism exhibition room of Tate Modern, I was prompted with paintings of different styles and subjects. This room’s exhibitions’ era stretches from the 1920’s to the 1940’s, with artists from celebrated muralist Diego Rivera to controversial surrealist Balthus. This room exhibited works of many different medias from traditional oil-on-canvas works to colour pastel on paper. This room may seem slightly bland at first sights as they’re mainly portraits of plain-looking working class people and politicians, but behind the paintings themselves, lies within stories and opinions of different perspectives on commoners’ lifestyle, politics, and war of that time.

Most of the exhibited works’ mediums were mainly on the traditional side: oil on canvas, colour pastel on paper, and sculpture. Painting style wise, everything’s a lot more academic (for example, Meredith Frampton’s paintings) and technically uptight. And from I gather from most of the paintings, aside from Christian Schad’s “Agosta, The Pigeon Chested Man, And Rasha, The Black Dove”, the colours were more monotonous and colour range were either quite dark and reserved. And due to the colour ranges, it seems to give out an emotionless and aloof vibe. Making us audiences feel like we’re observers staring into a glass box of another era.

As the descriptions on the wall of the exhibition mentioned that in the 1930’s, realistic styles were annex to support apposed political ideologies. And some governments such as Nazi Germany, believed that heroic style of art is the “correct” style of art and it strives against modernism. And Soviet Russian government also played a big part in this art era, where the government believed that art should celebrate the middle class.

The placement of works within the exhibition room tells the story not only of the art era of that time, also the way the society is and the political characters and situation of that time, therefore not only the political ideologies. For example, in one of the paintings that I will mention throughout this essay, Diego Rivera’s “Ms. Helen Wills Moody”, gives the audience an example of some of the people celebrated at that time. Along with the sculpture of Peter Peri’s “Mr. Collins from A.R.P. (1940)”, A.R.P. means Air Raid Precautions. Which in this sculpture, it suggests few of the political characters of that time and some of the organizations within politics and due to the organization’s name itself, it suggests the war-ridden situation of the 1930’s to 1940’s.

When we enter the room, we’re prompted by Diego Rivera’s “ Mrs. Helen Wills Moody (1930)” large scaled colour pastel sketch. According to the description, Ms. Moody was a celebrated American tennis player who won the gold medal in the Olympics. And looking at the background of the artist, Rivera was a much celebrated artist of his time, he was often invited by the Mexican government to paint murals describing the own city’s success and hard works of people. Judging by the subject of “Mrs. Helen Wills Moody” and Diego Rivera’s own background, we could see that Diego Rivera was well supported by the government and popular with his country’s people at that time. [pic]

Diego Rivera “ Mrs. Helen Wills Moody (1930)”

In the gallery we’ve also got Christian Schad’s artworks “Agosta, The Pigeon Chested Man, And Rasha, The Black Dove (1929)” and “Self Portrait (1927)”. Christina Schad’s works stood out from the set due to its colour ranges, and the big contrast on the bright and dark. Style wise it’s got surrealistic, supernatural feel to it due to the exaggerations of characters’ features. Such as the woman’s face in the background of “Self Portrait” and the colours and twists on the main subject of “Agosta, The Pigeon Chested Man (…)”From his work “Agosta, The Pigeon chested Man, And Rasha, The Black Dove”, we get a different side of the social realism era: middle class men’s views and prejudice.

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