Rude Britannia has to be the worst ticketed exhibition I have seen at the Tate and really isn’t worth paying the admission fee for. They have attempted to bring together comic art from the paintings and prints of William Hogarth and his contemporaries through to a Spitting Image doll of Margaret Thatcher and recent critical photographic images of Tony Blair and George Bush, and then practically shoved it all in one room without any historical order or comparison.
They’ve devoted a whole room to George Cruikshank’s ‘The Worship of Bacchus’ and wasted umpteen sheets of timber building a stage for viewers to stand on and see the upper parts of the very large canvas following a key. However due to the detail of the painting depicting the role of alcohol within all walks of British life, that is being annotated, the staging is too far away to actually view the work and remains better viewed from the ground in front. Finally they’ve got TV comedian Harry Hill to curate the final room… hmm…
The one plus point about the exhibition is that when I visited at least it was much easier to see Hogarth’s ‘A Rake’s Progress’, only the prints, than in the exceedingly packed solo exhibition they held in 2007 though it doesn’t feel that long ago. I also felt the cartoon accompaniments by Viz were very good at engaging a modern audience with the situation, character Roger Mellie, “The Man on the Telly” describing the works as a TV art critic in a hurry.
Having complained about this exhibition though, it is still worth paying a visit to Tate Britain this summer to see Mike Nelson’s ‘The Coral Reef’ a get lost in this labyrinthine installation of rooms that seem to reflect a series of commercial American spaces of perhaps the 1960s, such as a bar, a garage in which the collection of old tyres creates a resonant atmospheric smell, and a timber workshop that I couldn’t tell whether this was part of the work, evidence of its production or I’d gone out the fire exit to a part of the gallery I shouldn’t have been in. That’s how confusing it can be, something quite uncommon in contemporary art, which could relate the work to trying to untwine the symbolism in a painting. Also Fiona Banner’s ‘Harrier and Jaguar’ is interesting in the way these two fighter planes react with the space of the central gallery they have been inserted into, the latter having had its paint removed and been highly polished to create angled reflective surface that capture the gallery space. I particularly like the gallery’s caption: “Harrier and Jaguar remain ambiguous objects implying both captured beast and fallen trophy.” The reflection within the surface of the work captures the beast of the gallery whilst drawing comparisons between the art institution and the weapon of war, which lies upturned on the floor.