A Bigger Splash will take a new look at the dynamic relationship between performance and painting from 1950 to the present day. Taking its title from David Hockney’s iconic 1967 image of a Californian swimming pool and Jack Hazan’s film about Hockney’s life, it will bring together a range of key works by over 40 artists including Yves Klein, Jackson Pollock and Cindy Sherman. Moving through half a century of painting, video and photography, alongside archival and documentary material, this major group exhibition will show how the key period of post-war performance art has challenged and energised the medium of painting for successive generations.
The show begins by exploring Hockney’s striking treatment of the splash in his major work A Bigger Splash 1967 against Jackson Pollock’s radical ‘action painting’ Summertime 1948, to examine the painted canvas as an arena in which performative gestures and experiments are acted out. It will go on to explore how paint has been used on the body as a surface, and how painting is now being used by contemporary artists to create social and theatrical spaces.
A Bigger Splash will offer a unique chance to see how ‘action’ painters worked in the 1950s, 1960s and beyond, including Niki de Saint Phalle, Pinot Gallizio, the Japanese Gutai and Viennese Actionists. Rarely seen films and photographs will reveal how their experimental works were made, showing artists using the feet as brushes, snipping up canvases and shooting paintings with air rifles.
Moving beyond ‘action painting’, the exhibition will also show how artists experimented with painting as a transitory form using drag or camouflage, often treating make-up as a vernacular equivalent of ‘fine art’. These explorations of role-play and illusion will include videos, such as Bruce Nauman’s Art Make-Up 1971, photographs, such as Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits disguised as strange characters, and film stills, such as Jack Smith’s fantastically made-up cast of performers in his painted apartment.
Related to this consideration of paint as the trace of an action and as ‘masquerade’ on the body, A Bigger Splash will explore how artists have played with the idea of the ‘stage set’. The exhibition will showcase a number of recent large-scale installations, such as Karen Kilimnik’s dream-like Swan Lake 1992 and Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s theatrical room “Jean Cocteau…” 2003-12. It will reveal how attitudes developed through ‘performance art’ paved the way for contemporary artists such as IRWIN, Jutta Koether, Ei Arakawa and Lucy McKenzie to rethink painting. By examining this relationship between paint, the body and the gallery space, A Bigger Splash will uncover the underlying influence of action and performance after the 1950s upon artists working with painting today.
A Bigger Splash is curated by Catherine Wood, Curator of Contemporary Art and Performance, Tate Modern, with Fiontán Moran, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue by Tate Publishing.