Modern Conversations

What does it mean to be modern?

a person stands to look at a display in Tate St Ives

Modern Conversations display, Tate St Ives 2021 © Kirstin Prisk

Dame Barbara Hepworth, Sun Setting  1971

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Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Silueta Series, Mexico)  1976

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Joan Eardley, Salmon Net Posts  c.1961–62

Joan Eardley studied at Glasgow School of Art and lived in the city from 1940 to 1961. In 1950 she discovered the small fishing village of Catterline on the east coast of Scotland, and was captivated by the place. She rented cottages there from 1950 to 1961, when Catterline became her permanent home. Fishermen caught crabs and lobster in summer and cod and haddock in winter. There was also a salmon season from February to August when these fish were caught in bag nets. The nets were stretched out to dry on the grass above the high water line of the Catterline shore and Eardley painted them on the spot.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Alan Davie, Image of the Fish God  1956

Davie’s paintings are characterised by a variety of personal pictograms, shapes and symbols that he has defined as ‘primordial’. He believes that they have ‘many and varied meanings’, which he leaves open to poetic interpretation and free association. Image of the Fish God has a totemic monumentality that evokes ancient cultures and shamanistic beliefs. The black form may be seen as figurative, and the central diamond is reminiscent of an all-seeing eye.

Gallery label, July 2012

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Andreas Gursky, Bahrain I  2005

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Tomie Ohtake, Untitled (from the series Blind Paintings)  1962

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Andreas Gursky, Bahrain I  2005

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Asger Jorn, The Timid Proud One  1957

Jorn had been a prominent member of CoBrA, a group of northern European artists whose improvisatory approach to painting was intended as a way of liberating their work from repressive bourgeois conventions. Although this painting was made several years after the group disbanded, its child-like style reflects the same principles. The figure embodies some mysterious inner struggle, perhaps reflected in the title. Jorn was a great believer in these kind of opposed dualities. ‘Tension in a work of art is negative-positive: repulsive-attractive, ugly-beautiful. If one of these poles is removed, only boredom is left’, he said.

Gallery label, November 2005

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Lubaina Himid CBE RA, Between the Two my Heart is Balanced  1991

This work re-imagines Victorian artist James Tissot’s painting Portsmouth Dockyard c.1877 and is titled after a similar engraving. Tissot’s work features a white British soldier seated in a boat between two white women. In Lubaina Himid’s version, the soldier is replaced with a stack of coloured objects. According to the artist, they are maps which the Black female figures are tearing up and discarding. This action might be seen as a rejection of forms of knowledge and navigation traditionally controlled by white men. Himid has stated the work is ‘a musing on what would happen if black women got together and started to try to destroy maps and charts – to undo what has been done’.

Gallery label, August 2020

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Ronald Moody, Midonz  1937

We do not know for sure the identity of this monumental head. One writer suggested she is Moody’s ‘vision of woman, primordial and awakening’. Moody himself described her as ‘the goddess of transmutation’. Moody was interested in Gnosticism, a belief in the redemption of the spirit from physical matter through spiritual knowledge. It may be this sort of transmutation that he had in mind.

Midonz was shown in Paris and Baltimore in the 1930s, after which it was lost for almost fifty years.

Gallery label, August 2003

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Virginia Chihota, Fighting One’s Self  2016

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Veronica Ryan OBE, Loss of Selves, Place and Transformation  2000

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P06270: Sun Setting
Dame Barbara Hepworth Sun Setting 1971
T13356: Untitled (Silueta Series, Mexico)
Ana Mendieta Untitled (Silueta Series, Mexico) 1976
T04133: Salmon Net Posts
Joan Eardley Salmon Net Posts c.1961–62
T01748: Image of the Fish God
Alan Davie Image of the Fish God 1956

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