14 february 2010
At the Tate Modern are the largest collection of Van Doesburg’s Mondrian-like geometric, constructivist paintings I have ever seen in one place. Van Doesburg is also known for the publication of De Stijl magazine with its characteristic typography. He embraced the DADA movement and the room dedicated to DADA anarchy was a welcome foil to the remainder of the show which relentlessly recorded every possible variation of a square and rectangle that he could muster.
It was in fact a manifesto pledge of the Dada movement and the Surrealists that an artist should not repeat or copy what others are doing or had done. This was largely achieved by doing silly things like making delightful movies featuring men in suits doing strange walks.
But the overwhelming impression of the show is that Doesburg, relentlessly copied himself, if not Mondrian, ad infinitum.
Mrs Monk claimed to be influenced by the show and made these sketches in her little black book. She found her own tangent and went with it as you can see, thereby meeting the DADA criteria.
I mentioned Mondrians painting “Broadway Boogie Woogie” to Mrs Monk, because in ‘79 I made a screen print inspired by that painting. Perhaps I was also a plagiarist, but I take comfort from Braque and Picasso, who shared a studio and copied one another so closely that no one could possible decipher who did what. They did this knowingly of course, predating double acts that would follow, like Gilbert and George, or the Chapman Brothers, and The Monks.
I also made a screen print that I thought was entirely original until somebody told me I was ripping off the late Keith Haring.
Across the hall in Tate Modern, is another exhibition featuring another copy cat, Arshile Gorky, who has been credited with promoting European Art in America. He did so by aping Picasso and Gauguin and Cézanne, but unfortunately he did so by adding little to what the great masters had achieved.
Arshile Gorky, nevertheless enjoyed a notable career. He was an émigré from oppressive Turkish Armenia, changed his name to Gorky, and allowed his patrons to believe he was related to the renowned Maxim Gorky.
Between the two shows, the Monks had Coffee in the members’ room. We were warned that it was crowded but we took our chance and lined up for coffee and scones. Laden with tasty goods we set about the room in pursuit of a table, before the coffee might turn cold.
Across the way I noticed a table had become available and made a beeline leaving Mrs Monk in my wake. When I got there I noticed a glove had been placed strategically on each of the two remaining seats in the entire restaurant.
People around me noticed my disappointment including a waiter who asked, “Are they yours?”
“No, they are not mine” I said.
With not another word, he gathered up the gloves that had stolen the seats. The impediment was removed, and the Monks asserted squatters rights in due haste.
Unfortunately, due to an unexpected ever-sinking decent into soft furnishings, Mrs Monk spilt the coffee. The spectacle we had already created with the glove eviction, thus got a little more spectacular, and two teenage girls nearby were set off giggling.
The coffee was cold and spilt, but the scones needed halving and jamming and creaming in that peculiarly English way. Just as we started to tuck-in we were confronted by an unhappy man, with, it has to be said, a European accent, reminiscent of that Fawlty Towers sketch with the Germans and the war.
“You are sitting on my gloves,” he said.
“What?” Said Basil Fawlty.
“My gloves are there. You are sitting on my gloves,” he repeated.
“No, I’m not,” said Basil.
One of the many lookers-on pointed at the waiter who had arrested his gloves, and he skulked off to bail them out.
Mrs Monk kept an eye on man and his wife, and reported that they were arguing amongst themselves, and the argument continuing in the Gorky show where we continued to cross paths.
Arshill Gorky was another depressed man, who in fact committed suicide, a morbid trend he set for, Jackson Pollock; Gorky’s last painting is featured in the exhibition, and it clearly resonates with Pollock’s work that would follow.