Art

Review: Steve McQueen’s Exhibition opens at Tate Modern, Powerful, Confronting, an unfiltered Lens

McQueen is probably the only artist to have a Turner Prize and an Oscar and to have two exhibitions at the Tate simultaneously (Year 3 at Tate Britain till 3rd May 2020) . Celebrated for his confronting vision to tell the truth on both the social and political conditions of our time his new solo show of 14 works opened at Tate Modern on the 13th of  Feb 2020, his first in Britain since 1999. The exhibit consist of large scale video installations, still images and a sculpture.

Since 2008 the artist and film-maker has directed four feature films which included the academy award winning 12 Days a Slave. The exhibition focuses on his work as an artist since 1999 when he won the Turner Prize. The exhibition has a deliberate layout that is open and in non-chronological order, the artist believes that that act of looking is central to his art.

“The fact of the matter is I am interested in the truth” he declares, “I can not put a filter on life it is about not blinking”. And blinking is not easy when trying to digest the momentous issues before you, on entering you are greeted with Once Upon a Time (2002) (main image) a sequence of images originally selected by a NASA committee in 1977 to represent life on earth, this is nice, it shows workers, sunsets, cities and nature, “creating a utopian believe in the achievements of humanity”, no poverty, no famine, disease or conflict.

The state of utopia quickly shatters as you move further into the exhibition. The next piece of works is the film “Static” a helicopter circling the statue of liberty in New York Harbour, shot shortly after it re-opened after the September 11 attacks, it undermines the sense of hope and permanece the statue once represented. The close-up is uncomfortable.

But that is not all in “Cold Breath” McQueen’s hand strokes, pulls and yanks at his nipple, caressing. One minute it is violent the next tender, it goes on for 10 minutes.

Steve-McQueen-Charlotte-2004
Charlotte (2004),

Charlotte (2004), a close up fixes on the eye of actress Charlotte Rampling. Mcqueen’s finger moves around the eye, he pulls at the skin, and touches her eyeball, while her eye adjusts to the movement of the finger.

‘Western Deep’ sends you into the TauTona mines in South Africa a claustrophobic journey deep into the mines. Highlighting the poor working conditions and unnecessary loss of life driven by human greed as Mcqueen documents the intense work regime where the temperature can reach over 90 degrees celsius.

Steve McQueen 7th Nov 2001
Steve McQueen 7th Nov 2001

 ‘7th Nov’ it is the pinnacle of the exhibition the title refers to the day McQueen’s cousin Marcus accidently shot and killed his own brother a still, motionless film where Marcus recounts the incident vividly. You want to walk away but you can’t, he sounds rational but how can he be? The still image on the screen is a man lying there with a scar that looks like he had his head stitched from ear to ear. You can imagine the moment Marcus blew his brains out, even if you don’t want to. Deeply intense. 

McQueen’s interest in the “truth” could not be more blatant then in this exhibition, he deals in uncomfortable truths. The truths we rather sweep under the carpet, exploitation in all its hues, whether it is racial, sexual, economic, there are no filters on his lens. McQueen has not set out to shock he just happens to deal with or chooses subjects that shock.

When: runs until 11 May 2020.  Where:  Tate Modern Bankside London SE1 9TG
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