William Klein + Daido Moriyama at Tate Modern

Oddly atypical examples of the works on display to advertise the show

I saw this exhibition a few days ago, and in the period since, I’ve been trying to decide what I thought of it.  Generally I go to exhibitions with an open mind (some might call it ‘in complete ignorance’) to see what I can learn, and to react to what I can see.  Then, when I get home I have a look at what the critics writing in newspapers and online have to say about it, and either agree or disagree with them.

But this time, this approach failed me; I didn’t really understand the show, which opened last week at Tate Modern.  After I’d been round, I felt that I needed to read up about it and then return to have a look again, to see if I could appreciate it better.

For a start, I didn’t really see what the two artists had in common.  Yes, the both photograph cityscapes and people, and print in black and white, but is that enough to warrant a joint show?  But it’s not really a joint enterprise; it’s more a double bill, and there are some cinematic references, especially in the Klein rooms, so it’s more like the sort of old fashioned programming the Phoenix in Finchley used to show on a Sunday afternoon, when they twinned films like ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ and ‘King Kong’.

At the Tate, each artist has his own set of rooms, with only a half height dog-leg partition through which you can see from Klein Room 3 to Moriyama Room 3, and a single guide leaflet starting both back and front, hinting at any relationship between the two photographers.

The Klein works have stayed in my mind longer.  I enjoyed the film of New York City lights, the bright flashing or neon, observed both directly and in reflection on a wet side-walk  reminded me uncannily of the squeegy works in the Gerhard Richter show at the Tate last year, while the determinedly discordant soundtrack which dogged us through the rest of the exhibition placed it firmly in the 1960s.

Many of his shots are close in on crowds, so the viewer feels trapped right in the middle of the melee, even when the prints are huge, but there is also a feeling that it is the immediacy of the moment that is important.  Consequently the blurred and the brightly exposed are the images which he chooses to print and display.

It is here that my lack of understanding is a barrier to my appreciation of what’s on display.  What makes these shots worthy of display in a gallery?  It’s the impossible question for the non artist, isn’t it?  What makes this art, and other collections of blurry, over exposed pictures not art?  It must be something to do with intention and context, because that’s what curators usually say these days, don’t they?

But, on this occasion I am interested enough, that I may do some more reading before I go back and have another attempt at appreciating it.

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