Review: ‘Paul Klee – Making Visible’

Just as advertised in Tate’s website, Paul Klee is one of the ‘giants’ of twentieth-century art. And Tate Modern’s exhibition Paul Klee – Making Visible (October 16, 2013 – March 9, 2014) is a must-see for both Paul Klee and modern art enthusiasts.

Left, They Are Biting (1920) and right,     Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms (1920)

Left, They Are Biting (1920) and right, Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms (1920)

There is a rich variety of works on display and they are exhibited in a chronological sequence. The visitors will be able to look at Klee’s distinct style in his compositions of colorful and intricately placed squares as well as his paintings of cartoon-like figures on beautiful, hazy backgrounds. There are also some works where one could observe how Klee deviated from his usual style and this presents a more interesting Klee.

Tate has clearly done a good job with loaning an adequate amount of works. Of course this is hardly surprising with Tate. Considering their well-prepared exhibitions like the Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective or the Pre-Raphaelites in the past months, this seems to be Tate’s regular performance. Although the £15 ticket fee is expensive, Paul Klee and modern art enthusiasts will probably find the exhibition worth the price.

Left, timeline in the introduction section and right,                                            room 4’s introductory text

Left, timeline in the introduction section and right, room 4’s introductory text

Paul Klee – Making Visible follows the classic format of Tate exhibitions without taking any risks which makes the exhibition (not the works) somewhat boring. Exhibition starts with an introduction largely based on a timeline of the artist’s life and continues in separate rooms (17 in total) that are divided by different categories which also have a chronologic sequence. Basically, last room has Klee’s latest paintings. From the fonts used in the exhibition to the little booklets, everything looks and feels like Tate. Institutionalization is nice and Tate is quite successful with its exhibitions (love the booklets) but same format every time becomes dull after a while.

Tate can very well mount much more exciting and colorful exhibitions if it can dare to change. For example in this exhibition it is being told that Paul Klee had painted one of the walls of his studio black to hang his paintings there. It would have been much better and interesting if Tate tried out darker colors for the background of Klee’s works as he tends to paint in dark colors. Although some walls in the exhibition are indeed painted black, they are sporadic and white dominates in general.

V&A is a good example to look at in terms of experimenting with exhibition design. V&A’s success and variety in exhibition design is the result of the museum’s policy of working with different designers for each exhibition whereas Tate seems to develop the exhibitions with an in-house team.

Left, Tate’s Classic Exhibition Booklet – Accompanies the exhibition really well, also a free souvenir from the exhibition. Right, a particularly small work by Klee is isolated on the large wall. Don’t know if this mounting is expertly ‘curated’ or not but clearly this is very inefficient in terms of space.

Left, Tate’s Classic Exhibition Booklet – Accompanies the exhibition really well, also a free souvenir from the exhibition. Right, a particularly small work by Klee is isolated on the large wall. Don’t know if this mounting is expertly ‘curated’ or not but clearly this is very inefficient in terms of space.

The exhibition is presented as The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee – Making Visible and the EY stands for the company Ernst & Young. It is well known that the art world has been shaped by the rich and powerful. It is also obvious that many museums unashamedly embrace the capital to provide funding for themselves. These days one only needs a few hundred million dollars to name a gallery in a world famous museum (spending enormous sums of money for a museum gallery in a world where many suffer is another subject to be discussed later on). Having sponsors for temporary exhibitions have also been a customary and useful practice for museums, but giving the name of a company to an exhibition seems to be the new trend. Like the BP Portrait Award of the National Portrait Gallery, Tate presents the Paul Klee – Making Visible under the title of The EY Exhibition. The debate on how the museum funds its exhibitions through sponsorships aside, will an institution like Tate decide on sponsors according to the company names when they are putting them in the title? Are we going to see a Hello Kitty Exhibition: Van Gogh Retrospective one day, or will the museum have a corporate filter or a censor for its sponsorships? It is definitely going to be an interesting development to observe.

Funding is important. But isn’t it hypocrisy when an institution, which zealously promotes that nothing should obstruct the art exhibited, sells the Paul Klee exhibition title to a corporate company?

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