Art under attack at Tate Britain

Iconoclasm: from the Greek eikon (image) and klastes (breaker). The Tate Britain show, which opens tomorrow, studies the history of destruction of British art since the 1500s. The show is wider than the strict definition of iconoclasm, which is limited to the destruction of religious symbols, and also looks at politics, attacks on art and the purposeful destruction process in art with the risk of being off-topic in the last three rooms.

The exhibition obviously cannot display the destroyed art but demonstrates that religious and political iconoclasts were in some instances willing to show the destruction itself, despite different purposes, such as avoiding idolatry in religion, or fighting for a cause. Some iconoclasts wanted us to see their acts or what remained of them: scratched panels, decapitated sculptures, noses or arms missing… The iconoclasts were meticulous in some cases; for instance, carefully removing sections from stained glass and prints.

The Protestant Reformation was key in religious iconoclasm where idols were seen as a distraction from the faith in God: corrupted images vs. incorruptible text. In political iconoclasm, sculptures in public spaces and art works were easy defenceless targets, while having a high symbolic power. The Suffragettes attacked art to campaign for the women’s right to vote. Seeing a picture of the Velasquez’s Rokeby Venus damaged is certainly heart breaking.

All in all, I enjoyed learning about iconoclasm in religion and politics and found the Aesthetic section stimulating, intertwined with performance art. I do think however that the subjects of attacks on art and the purposeful destruction process in art could have been an exhibition in its own right… if a curator reads my blog! The Art under Attack show runs until January 5, 2014.

20131001-183209.jpgAnon, Christ before Pilate c.1400–25
© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

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