Amedeo Modigliani - Tate Modern 23 November 2017 – 2 April 2018
Sometimes, when artists have such an iconic style, as is certainly the case with Modigliani, we think we know them better than we do. The narrow faces, the long necks, the provocative nudes, we all know this artist so well. But do we?
The Modigliani exhibition at Tate Modern is the most comprehensive ever held in the UK, bringing together almost 100 works, between portraits, sculptures, and the largest ever group of nudes to be shown in this country.
The curators take us on a journey of discovery or re-evaluation of the artist’s works, choosing to open it and close it with two self-portraits, indicative of the artist, his relationship with masks, perceptions, deception. The first self-portrait, hanging on its own in room one, depicts Modigliani as Pierrot, the tragic clown, with roots in the past, yet projected into the future. It's almost a manifesto of what the artist had set out to be, and build. In the last room we find a late self-portrait painted a few months before his death of tubercular meningitis, age 35. It shows a very confident, almost smug, healthy man, professional with palette in hand. A mask?
Modigliani is a portrait artist. He only painted three landscapes in his life – one of which is in the exhibition. But what exactly is he portraying? Emotions? Personality? Likeness? Perhaps it's easier to get an idea of where he comes from and where is going, by observing his sculptures, to which a whole room is dedicated. The inspiration is a mixture of ancient classical statuary – Greek, Egyptian – and primitive African. The sculptures appear hieratic, mysterious. Beauty and style were very important to Modigliani (who criticised Picasso’s outfits), and he stylizes his portraits accordingly, making sure to leave enough likeness. The backgrounds complement the images. The written names of the sitters and the artist’s signatures are reminiscent of posters (probably influenced by Lautrec). The expressions, dreamy, melancholic, absent, vulnerable, yet unreachable at the same time.
Modigliani had a short, intense, Bohemian life, afflicted by tuberculosis, whose symptoms and effects he tried to hide with alcohol and drugs. Being highly contagious, if his illness had been publicly known, he would have been rejected from social life and confined to solitude. Born in Italy, he moved to Paris in 1906, age 21. Montmartre first, Montparnasse later, his circle of friends included artists, poets, musicians, art collectors, of all nationalities, who all posed for him, from Picasso to Rivera.
Complete with films documenting Modigliani’s Paris and a VR experience of what his Ochre Atelier used to look like, this is an immersive experience into this artist’s world, its decadence, struggle, and transcendent beauty.
First published on the East Finchley Open Artists January 2018 Newsletter - Click HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.