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"Capturing the Moment" at Tate Modern

Such an ambitious and, as Tate Modern themselves have put it, “open-ended” conversation ultimately produced a meandering and overwhelming experience from a critical point of view, but could be forgiven by the prestige of the artworks on display for pure emotional enjoyment.

Installation view of "Capturing the Moment" at Tate Modern. Courtesy of FAD Magazine. 2023.

The arrival of new technology drastically changes the course of what came before. For the previous methods that survive, crucial truths about those systems, tools and techniques are revealed, and we learn more about the relationship between the old and the new. In Capturing the Moment, Tate Modern takes us on a journey through painting and photography, with a focus on tracing how the two mediums were so significantly impacted by each other, showcasing and analysing one core characteristic of both: how each medium succeeds in “capturing the moment”.


Each gallery in the exhibition presents a sub-focus of where painting and photography might interact, such as “painting under the constant influence of prevalent photographic imagery” or “photographs that appear painterly”. Using examples of seminal artworks from each medium, the audience is meant to be engaged with these fundamental components of art practice, theory and impact on the development of the narrative. But the chosen themes are too broad and simplistic, lacking in any deeper analysis or reaching a significant conclusion that brings on more confusion and intellectual frustration. In observing how Hiroshi Sugimoto’s seascape photographs are so brush-like and fluid that they appear almost abstract, is it not more important to consider why they appear almost abstract as opposed to painterly? The themes also do not fit together to form a consistent thread that leads us through the exhibition; in grappling with one room’s thesis, I have forgotten what was proposed in the room before.


Hiroshi Sugimoto, "Aegean Sea, Pilion", 1990

The chosen examples sometimes only loosely fit these themes proposed, or miss a point much more interesting, such as the Sugimoto example. Cecily Brown’s “Trouble in Paradise” (1999) and George Condo’s “Mental States” (2000), both seminal examples of figurative abstraction, are deployed to defend the legacy of “expressive figurative painting” in a world dominated by photographic imagery. This argues neither the potential to achieve the precise visual realism in photography through painting, nor ever mentions the power in Condo and Brown’s ability to show truth in psychological and emotional depth through painting. The grouping of Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Lorna Simpson, and Njideka Akunyili Crosby who incorporate and group photographic imagery in their paintings is interesting due to the impact of mass media consumer material on these artists’ subject matter, but doesn’t do much to determine or impact the artist’s chosen medium of painting itself.

George Condo, "Mental States", 2000

Cecily Brown, "Trouble in Paradise," 1999

Despite the challenge in wading through a huge amount of broad and disjointed conceptual components of the exhibition, the viewer is urged to visit this show if only for the rare and envied chance to see some of the most iconic works of art from the last hundred years. David Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” (1972) captures a moment of intimacy between two people that is simultaneously felt and related to by a wider queer community. The eeriness of Peter Doig’s harrowing “Canoe Lake” (1998) cannot be felt from the pages of a book. And where else could you stroll past Picasso, Bacon, Freud and Neel within a few feet of one another?

David Hockney, "Portrait of An Artist (Pool with Two Figures)", 1972

Peter Doig, “Canoe Lake”, 1998

It was a joy to see the newly acquired work of Christina Quarles and Laura Owens and celebrate their inclusion into the Tate’s collection. Ultimately, one should capture the moment to indulge in these masterpieces of twentieth century painting and photography.


For more information on this exhibition, or to learn about our 'Experiences' programme of lecture series, guided tours and more, please email kate@artscopeintl.com.

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