Ruin Lust, too wide-ranging

Ruin Lust at Tate Britain could have been a good exhibition, sold to the public as a wide-ranging show displaying the uses of ruins in art since the 17th c. The exhibition may well be wide-ranging but Tate Britain put on show odd connections between artists and some off-topic pieces.

The first room started well with ruins that added a certain cachet to paintings and a dose of drama, suiting Turner’s tormented skies, in my view. I expected to see Francesco Guardi, the Italian veduta master, known for its ‘capriccios’ i.e. imaginary idealised landscapes often heightened with ruins (see my post on the Canaletto-Guardi show at Musée Jacquemart-André, in French).

But I did not see Guardi in the Tate exhibition, despite belonging to the period from the 17th c. to the present day and his absence was felt. Overall, the exhibition was bizarre, randomly mixing Turner and Caulfield for instance. Ruin Lust felt as strange as ‘Art under Attack’, although I felt I learnt about the history of destruction of British art since the 1500s in Tate Britain’s previous show.

I wondered if it was the nature of those thematic shows but Ruin Lust felt like the Tate curators simply laid out everything that had ruins in its title or any artwork depicting ruins (most works do come from the Tate permanent collection). The last room deals with council estates destruction, wide ranging isn’t it? Ruin Lust is presented at Tate Britain until May 18.

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