Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Contemporary — ‘Irresistible’

Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘Untitled (Spread)’ (1983) © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

“I really really feel sorry for folks who consider issues like soap dishes or mirrors or Coke bottles are ugly,” Robert Rauschenberg after stated, “because they’re surrounded by factors like that all day extended, and it have to make them miserable.” Ordinary things produced Rauschenberg content — objects such as the rubber tyre with which he ringed a stuffed goat, purchased for $ 15 from a utilised furnishings store and placed on a painted canvas stuck with magazine clippings. He explained that the goat and tyre, interleaved like letters in a monogram, “lived happily ever after” together: art and life awkwardly, optimistically, enchantingly combined.

“Monogram” visits the UK for the very first time in 50 years — can it even be that old? — to star in Tate Modern’s irresistible new retrospective of the American artist, who died in 2008. Alongside the shaggy, insouciant angora goat hangs the wooden frame enclosing a quilt, sheet and pillow slathered in oil, toothpaste and nail polish, “Bed” — which hints at blood and violence but was named by Rauschenberg as “one of the friendliest pictures I’ve ever painted. My worry has constantly been that a person would want to crawl into it” — and the painted trolley with metal chain, bucket, washer and door knobs known as “Gift for Apollo”.

All date from the 1950s, celebrate beauty in the each day, and sweep you up in a generous democratic vision that pulls art out of the studio and on to street level. Even if you have not the slightest sympathy with the conceptual art that reverberated down the decades from Rauschenberg’s innovations — and Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” and Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde zoo so clearly pick up threads from the celebrated pieces here — these seldom loaned “Combines” are a joy: fresh, bright, emotionally engaging, intellectually curious, quickly accessible because “a image is much more like the genuine planet when it is made out of the genuine world”.

“Oracle” (1962-65), a multi-component scrap-metal installation containing wireless microphone systems, turns sculpture into a sound piece. The industrial allusions recall David Smith but where Smith was an elegant abstractionist, this is a messy, screeching, garrulous sprawl evoking the factory floor. Brushwork is noisy, also: “First Time Painting”, which involves a plastic exhaust cap and curling metal springs, was developed as a efficiency on stage in Paris in 1961 with a microphone attached to the easel to amplify each and every brushstroke. Rauschenberg stopped painting when an alarm clock in the canvas went off.

Tate superbly chronicles how, with lightness of touch, an exuberant insistence on the arbitrary and youthful irreverence, Rauschenberg collapsed painting, printmaking, sculpture, performance, into hybrid collaborative types. Operating in a studio with windows thrown open and the television always on, Rauschenberg by means of the 1950s and 1960s, it appears, could do no incorrect. At monumental scale, painted silkscreens such as “Retroactive II” collaged images from Television stills including the not too long ago assassinated President Kennedy and space travel. Uniting disparate printed material with paint, Rauschenberg distilled the beginning of the all-over visual noise of late-20th-century life. The silkscreens won him the Golden Lion at the 1964 Venice Biennale — the first American to be so honoured, and signalled pictorial invention was shifting from Europe to the US.

‘Bed’ (1955) © New York Image: The Museum of Contemporary Art

This is a marvellous moment for American art in London. Though Rauschenberg’s use of located objects goes back to Duchamp, and his collages to Kurt Schwitters, his experiments develop right away out of a response to Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, whose gestural painting he adopts and adapts while radically rejecting individual expression. Tate shows the iconic “Erased de Kooning Drawing” in which Rauschenberg painstakingly rubbed out the marks of the father figure. The ghosts of Abstract Expressionism everywhere right here send a single back to the Royal Academy’s excellent exhibition (to January 2), and the contrast is fascinating. Even though the RA’s show ends with performs from the 1970s, the movement’s deep-felt imperatives of the person and spiritual feel remote from today, compared with Rauschenberg’s laconic tone and debt to mass-production.

On the other hand, the RA show illuminates Rauschenberg’s early function at Tate: the all-black and all-gold paintings with bubbled surfaces made from scraps of newspaper embedded in paint, homages as properly as pastiches of Abstract Expressionism, and the six-metre “Automobile Tire Print”, made by driving a vehicle over 20 sheets of paper, which parodies Newman’s zip paintings and anticipates the industrial imagery of “Monogram”. Despite quite a few efforts to attach it to canvas, the goat, he mentioned, “refused to be abstracted into art” till he transformed it by adding the tyre.

‘Monogram’ (1955-59) © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Transformation and collaboration remained important to Rauschenberg’s vision, evident in later work here which includes the 1970s grids of cardboard packing boxes, alluding to globalisation, 1980s posters for the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange project, and 1990s ink-jet photographic prints. Produced after Rauschenberg left New York to reside on Captiva Island, Florida in 1971 and became a public rather than avant-garde figure, these lack excitement, the connection to urban expertise. They wilt in comparison to the earlier work.

A richer coda is on provide in Mayfair at Offer Waterman, which brings collectively an exceptional choice of transfer drawings from 1958-69, made by dissolving newspaper photographs and text with a solvent, then rubbing them on to paper with pencil or pen, sometimes adding gouache and watercolour. Mass-developed imagery is seamlessly combined with the handmade intimacy of drawing, and political themes evoked.

‘Triathlon (Scenario)’ (2005) © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

With pictures from Listerine mouthwash to a radar station, “Orange Body” characteristics examples of 1960s Americana at microscopic and cosmic scales, arranged to surround the caption “Deadlines Scrapped over Desegregation” amid rushing helmeted heroes: baseball players, astronauts. “Headline”, first owned by Andy Warhol, is a blur of politicians’ faces, the pro-slavery Confederate flag and auto licence plates from Mississippi all revolving round a nevertheless square of calm with a reproduction of Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”.

These careful, thoughtful collages of protest extend our understanding of the most private group of performs on show at Tate, the 34 illustrations to Dante’s “Inferno” designed by the exact same transfer technique. Right here, on surfaces luscious, smoky, scratchy, flickering, Dante is a shorts-clad athlete from Sports Illustrated among wrestlers and weightlifters, his celestial messengers are astronauts, demons are the riot police, and handless clocks symbolise eternity. All these unfold via fragile, fugitive veils — “Inferno” is Rauschenberg’s most homoerotic perform — musing on discomfort, conflict and suffering in an ancient narrative with which Rauschenberg nevertheless achieves his life-long aim: “to ennoble the ordinary”.

‘Robert Rauschenberg’, Tate Modern day, London, to April two,

‘Rauschenberg, Transfer Drawings’, Offer Waterman, to January 13,

Photographs: Robert Rauschenberg Foundation New York Image: The Museum of Modern day Art, New York/Scala, Florence

Section: Arts

Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Contemporary

America’s challenge to Europe, painting’s answer to photography, female identity asserted against the male gaze: numerous key strands of 20th-century art converge uniquely in the perform and life of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Tate Modern’s excellent new retrospective, the biggest ever devoted to O’Keeffe outside America, is a when-in-a-generation likelihood to discover a figure entirely absent from British collections. With outstanding loans from 23 US states — the monumental blow-up of a widespread plant “Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1”, the most high-priced perform sold at auction by a woman artist a uncommon uniting of the “Black Place” quartet transforming Navajo County hills “like a mile of elephants” into brilliant-hued undulations and lightening zigzags — it presents O’Keeffe as a pioneer of American abstraction.

That is precisely what this challenging, lofty, reclusive artist would have wished. But yet another story — private, erotic, fraught — keeps breaking by means of, and eventually determines the knowledge of O’Keeffe’s perform as an emotionally exhilarating more than a formally revealing one particular.

In the earliest paintings, from 1918-19, swirling rose arcs enclose a womblike azure void, and emerald ripples pulsate in rhythm to flames soaring in a black-rimmed cone. O’Keeffe explained these synaesthetically, as representing musical chords, and titled them “Music — Pink and Blue No 1” and “Blue and Green Music”. However to deny their sexual associations, and that of the iconic types abstracted from nature right here — deep cavities encased by purple folds in “Dark Iris”, thrusting stalks and softly opening petals in “Calla Lilies on Red”, the inward-moving eddies of “Pool in the Woods, Lake George” — is actually not to see them at all.

O’Keeffe was a 29-year-old art school teacher in South Carolina when a pal sent some of her charcoal abstractions — dizzying compositions evoking vortexes, waterfalls, slow-moving clouds — to photographer and modernist impresario Alfred Stieglitz. Tate has borrowed these delicate, vibrant pieces from MoMA, Philadelphia and Houston, and you can see why, on getting them, Stieglitz exclaimed “at final, a woman on paper!”

He instantly place them on the walls of his New York gallery, and gave O’Keeffe a solo show the following year. In 1918 the couple moved in collectively and Stieglitz began the series of much more than one hundred photographs in which O’Keeffe evolves from protégée to model to muse, from collaborator to combatant to free of charge spirit. They are a highlight right here, and dictate a compelling biographical slant.

Stieglitz grouped them together as “A Lady [One Portrait]”: the camera’s bid to rival painting in fixing an image of the archetypal woman. Stieglitz’s prototypes integrated Rubens’ “Helene Fourment” when he posed O’Keeffe in a kimono by a window, and Matisse’s languid figures for the full-frontal nudes with pronounced breasts and pubic hair such as “Georgia O’Keeffe — Torso”.

Georgia O’Keeffe with Alfred Stieglitz, in 1936 © CSU Archives/Everett Collection

But Stieglitz was also after a portrait of the instinctual all-American artist: framing O’Keeffe’s strong profile, long neck, tapering flexible hands in front of her paintings, he implied that her art sprang directly from her physique.

“I enjoy myself!” was O’Keeffe’s initial response. “It tends to make me laugh that I like myself so significantly — like myself as you make me.”

Stieglitz’s portraits stay the greatest love letter of one artist to an additional in photographic history, and a wonderfully optimistic record of a young woman discovering and delighting in her own sexuality. They also shaped O’Keeffe’s painting: the cropping, foreshortening, close-up formats of her pictures of flowers, leaves, shells, the way light moulds the fruit in “Apple Family” and “Alligator Pear”.

‘Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait’ (1918) by Alfred Stieglitz © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

A language of American modernism was forged in the push-pull amongst O’Keeffe and Stieglitz in the 1920s. Typically they took the exact same subjects: his “Equivalent” cloud series and her bulbous cloud shapes in “A Celebration”, painted at their marriage in 1924 her visions of New York’s buildings against gleaming patches of sky — “New York Street with Moon”, “Ritz Tower, Night” — versus his austere geometric cityscapes such as “New York from An American Place”.

Defining an American place — what O’Keeffe named “that fantastic American thing” — was the heart of the project. Stieglitz, a cosmopolitan intellectual educated in Germany, was entranced by the freedom, sparseness and luminosity with which O’Keeffe characterised nature about his nation house in upstate New York. “Lake George” and “From the Lake” are near-abstractions of flattened bands or darting shafts of blue and turquoise. Detail in “Oak Leaves” is so focused that the imagery practically dissolves into pools of autumn pinks and greys.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s ‘New York Street with Moon’ (1925) © Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

“Each colour regains the fun it need to have felt on forming the very first rainbow,” wrote O’Keeffe’s contemporary Charles Demuth. That was the note of purity and freshness that O’Keeffe struck for so a lot of East Coast modernists chasing American cultural identity. Right here was a lady who had never been to Europe and had no interest in going. Rather, O’Keeffe looked south-west, and in 1929 arrived in New Mexico.

There she felt, she told Stieglitz, “like flying — like turning the planet more than again — like I utilised to feel”. She had fallen “into anything from which there is no return”. Stieglitz who howled that for years he had been “canonising” her “day and night as no lady living or in the past was ever canonised”, was redundant. O’Keeffe now complained that when depicting her Stieglitz, essentially, “was often photographing himself. You had to sit there and do what you have been told”. They proceeded to live apart for much of every year.

© Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum

New Mexico liberated O’Keeffe: “As quickly as I saw it, that was my country … It fitted me precisely.” Right here was “the feeling of a lot space” that could not be tamed into European landscape mode, but lay open to the self-expression O’Keeffe sought: “I seem to be hunting for something of myself out there, one thing in myself that will give me a symbol for all this.” Far more than ever, the rounded summits, hidden recesses, fleshy surfaces in “Purple Hills”, “Black Hills with Cedar” and “The Mountain, New Mexico” read like externalisations of the body.

Tate is proper, too, that the bleached animal skulls that O’Keeffe collected there are allegories of nationhood and identity. To O’Keeffe the bones have been “shapes I appreciate, as gorgeous as anything I know and strangely more living than the animals walking around … I have used these things to say what is to me the wideness and the wonder of the globe.”

The elongated “Horse’s Skull on Blue”, the idiosyncratic “Mule’s Skull with Pink Poinsettia”, the giant antlers brooding more than tiny mountain peaks in “From the Faraway, Nearby”, painted in the 1930s, share surrealism’s incongruities and games of scale, but have no anxiousness: they are, like every thing in this upbeat show, songs of America.

‘From the Faraway, Nearby’ (1937) by Georgia O’Keeffe © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Tate Modern, to October 30, Then Bank Austria Kunstforum Vienna, December 7-March 26 Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, April 22-July 30

Photographs: Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum CSU Archives/Everett Collection Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS, London

Section: Arts

Mona Hatoum, Tate Modern day, London, review — ‘Triumphant’

Mona Hatoum's 'Light Sentence' (1992). Photo: Philippe Migeat©Philippe Migeat

Mona Hatoum’s ‘Light Sentence’ (1992). Photo: Philippe Migeat

Before there was Warsan Shire, there was Mona Hatoum. Shire’s poem “Home”, which opened with the lines “No a single leaves house unless/house is the mouth of a shark,” has made her the 21st-century cantor for exodus. However the Somali-British poet is heir to a lineage of artists who have wrenched lyricism out of relocation.

As Tate Modern’s triumphant new show demonstrates, no one has expressed the terrible beauty of unbelonging greater than Mona Hatoum. Born in Beirut in 1952, the artist seasoned a double exile. Her Palestinian family members were obliged to leave Israel in 1948 and “existed with a sense of dislocation”, Hatoum has stated. Then, in 1975, Hatoum discovered herself stranded in London when civil war broke out in Lebanon. She completed art college in the British capital and now divides her time in between London and Berlin, though a nomadic gene sees her accept residencies all through the planet.


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Despite her private trauma, Hatoum is far from a confessional artist. Tate’s exhibition opens with “Socle du Monde” (“Base of the world”), a cube covered in black iron filings which cling to hidden magnets, which is named right after a 1961 sculpture by Piero Manzoni.

The intellectual jester of conceptualism, Manzoni placed a plinth upside down to suggest that our complete planet was displayed on its surface. In a smooth metal which anticipated minimalism, Manzoni’s function echoed the Duchampian credo that all the world’s an artwork waiting for a museum to place it on show. Hatoum keeps the hermetic geometry, thereby declaring herself an artist who has no intention of letting her feelings overwhelm her type, however her tactile pelt whispers of uncanny forces caged within, as if Carl Andre had been reimagined by Steven King’s Carrie.

By the time she created “Socle du Monde” in 1992-93, Hatoum had adopted minimalist form as her primary grammar. However the initial rooms remind us that her early language was overall performance. A black and white photograph of Hatoum’s bare feet tied to a pair of Doc Martens (footwear of decision for fashionable skinheads) as she trudges by way of Brixton is the legacy of a film — on screen in a later area — entitled “Roadworks” (1985) that sprang out of her anger at the era’s race riots.

A layer-cake of imagery assembled from make contact with sheets and grainy footage, “Don’t smile, you are on camera” (1980), creates the illusion that male bodies are getting surreptitiously stripped by a prying lens. The unsettling sleight of eye speaks of an artist revenging herself — for this violating gaze is hers — on an art establishment which has denuded girls for centuries.

Taking her cue from a generation of feminist artists just before her, Hatoum saw performance as a “revolutionary medium”. But by the 1990s she had outgrown its innate melodrama. Made in 1992, “Light Sentence” is 1 of her earliest installations. Consisting of two rows of wire-mesh lockers in amongst which hangs a single, swaying lightbulb, it envelops the spectator in an infinite grid of silky, fluctuating, wolf-grey shadows. At after prison cell, interrogation chamber and battery cage, yet also astoundingly, autonomously lovely, it has an specifically strong resonance in a gallery where Agnes Martin, topic of a Tate retrospective final year, was a current resident.

But the American painter declared that her lines have been “innocent as trees” — private, transcendent expressions of her outer world. Hatoum puts her matrices to more pointed use. She know that with out the grid there can be no cage, no prison cell, no bed, no electric power and no map, all of which are recurring tropes in her oeuvre. (Tate’s show, sensibly, does not adhere to chronology and therefore maintains the cyclical elegance of Hatoum’s material repetitions and recalibrations.) As such, Hatoum is in the vanguard of a skein of political artists, such as Cornelia Parker, Nadia Kaabi-Linke and Hajra Waheed, who use the foundation stone of geometric abstraction to temper overt emotion.

Nonetheless, Hatoum also sieves her sensibility through a surrealist filter. She frequently uses organic substances — hair, blood, urine — and has a predilection for household objects which tends to make her the daughter of Meret Oppenheim and Louise Bourgeois, feminist artists who also turned the tools of their oppression into weapons.

Mona Hatoum's 'Grater Divide' (2002). Photo: Iain Dickens, courtesy White Cube©Iain Dickens

Mona Hatoum’s ‘Grater Divide’ (2002). Photo: Iain Dickens, courtesy White Cube

At Tate, a gigantic cheese grater is blown up to resemble a hazardous daybed. A French garden chair (“Jardin Public”, 1993) sprouts a triangle of pubic hair from the holes in its seat. The unsettling menace is intensified by the whine of “Homebound” (2000), an installation of objects — colanders, child’s cot, hamster cage, assorted lightbulbs and furnishings — electrically wired with each other so that they buzz, dim and flare with ominous indifference to our presence.

Time and again these Plath-like howls of fury are quietened by Hatoum’s rationalist architecture. “Homebound”, for example, is framed by a colony of exquisitely pared-down works which includes “Present Tense” (1996), a rectangle of golden soap bars which bears the faint tracing of a map of Palestinian territories as drawn up in the Oslo peace accords. On the wall, swatches of burnt toilet paper (“Untitled”, 1989) have been burnt with tiny perforations that type stuttering, singed rows suggestive of an indecipherable morse code.

Mona Hatoum's 'Hot Spot' (2009). Photo: Agostino Osio, courtesy Fondazione Querini Stampalia Onlus, Venice©Agostino Osio

Mona Hatoum’s ‘Hot Spot’ (2009). Photo: Agostino Osio, courtesy Fondazione Querini Stampalia Onlus, Venice

These diminutive interventions balance out the brutal violence that simmers in Hatoum’s monumental installations. The second half of this show introduces us to “Quarters” (1996), four metal beds with bare mattress frames stacked five higher and arranged in the panopticon shape that, thanks to its capacity for surveillance, produced for ideal Victorian prisons. Nearby is “Hot Spot” (2013), a stainless steel globe with the continents outlined in red neon as if the entire planet was in flames. Just as it is all getting as well apocalyptic, we have “Projection” (2006), an additional map traced in flocks of cotton on a white ground which imagines our planet as a pillowy, utopian phantom, the alter ego of these bleak, ascetic bunks.

As a songstress of residence, clearly Hatoum is no Martha Stewart. Yet, in spite of essential attempts to pigeonhole her, she also is not the visual equivalent of Edward Stated. Although Mentioned, the pre-eminent witness to the Palestinian displacement, wrote a gorgeous essay about her perform in 2000, reproduced in Tate’s catalogue, Hatoum’s concerns venture additional. The plight of her parents’ birthplace is always on her radar. But she’s also telling us that domesticity is death to female empowerment. And that handful of of us, regardless of gender, ever actually uncover a refuge.

The show closes with “Undercurrent (red)” (2008), a scarlet mat whose tight weave loosens into tentacles plugged into lightbulbs, their intermittent glow reminding us just how much blood there is on everybody’s carpet these days. It’s a robust piece, reminiscent however not derivative of the Aids-connected light operates of Cuban-American artist Félix González-Torres.

A a lot more subtle coup de foudre would have been delivered by “Measures of Distance”, which sits halfway by way of the exhibition. Produced in 1988, this video is a palimpsest of sound and image, showing Hatoum’s mother as she takes a shower, her physique barely discernible behind a curtain of Arabic writing. Fluid as a river, spiky as barbed wire, as inspired a grid as Hatoum ever devised, the calligraphy tends to make a perfect formal container for the sadness in Hatoum’s voice as she reads aloud the letters her mother wrote to her throughout their separation.

As lines such as “Dear Mona, I have not been in a position to send you any letters since the regional post workplace was destroyed by a auto bomb . . . ” echo by means of the rooms just before and beyond, we intuit that this exhibition will disrupt our own homecoming.

To August 21,

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Section: Arts

‘Artist & Empire’ at Tate Britain

A survey of art made in response to empire reflects national pride, as well as a legacy of lingering ambivalence

Queen Victoria commissioned the intimate portrait of the Indian artisan Bakshiram now observed in Artist &amp Empire, a key exhibition at Tate Britain that opened this week. The elderly potter returns the artist’s gaze with a weary stoicism from beneath an orange turban. He had lunched with the Queen at Windsor after demonstrating his craft at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886.


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However, as with several performs in this ambitious, extensive show, time has altered its which means. Bakshiram and other artisans had been in truth on a supervised check out from the colonial jail in Agra exactly where they learnt their abilities. At a time when colonial subjects were liable to be portrayed as ethnographic or criminal sorts, Austrian artist Rudolf Swoboda invested him with a striking personal dignity.

Subtitled Facing Britain’s Imperial Past, this is billed as the first big-scale show of art created in response to the British empire given that the wonderful imperial exhibitions of the early 20th century. As successive colonies won independence soon after the late 1940s, numerous of these functions had been consigned to basements or military museums as sources of shame, anger, nostalgia or melancholy. Paul Gilroy writes in the catalogue foreword on Britain’s lingering ambivalence towards empire that its imperial previous was “long a matter of national pride and a supply of prestige as properly as a litany of exploitation, famine, cruelty and slaughter”. As a measure of this contentiousness, the show’s announcement last summer triggered, in parts of the British press, a reflex defence of empire.

Some 200 paintings, drawings, sculptures and artefacts span far more than 400 years, from the 16th century to the present. British artists are joined by ones from former colonies, with fresh consideration to girls and amateurs. Loans outnumber the Tate’s 25 functions but all are drawn from the UK. As the lead curator, Alison Smith, says: “Imperial collecting formed the bedrock of our collections.”

Sir Henry Tate’s gallery was itself founded in the 1890s on a fortune made in refining plantation sugar. It is now among national institutions rethinking their collections — some would say belatedly — in the light of challenges posed by decades of art and scholarship, significantly of it driven by intellectuals from former colonies. Edward Mentioned, Homi Bhabha, Stuart Hall and Gilroy are among these whose believed implicitly underpins this show.

Arranged by art-historical genres, the show moves from maps and “curiosities”, history painting, portraiture and costume to empire’s influence on the development of contemporary art. Rather than illustrating a historical narrative, Smith says, “we lead with the picture”. The initial “Mapping” section ranges from a 16th-century watercolour of Enniskillen Castle in England’s “first colony”, Ireland, to iconic oils of higher-imperial adventurism. 1 painting has Sir Francis Drake leaning proprietorially on a globe, flanked by fellow Elizabethan privateers Thomas Cavendish and Sir John Hawkins, a pioneer of Britain’s transatlantic slave trade.

In John Millais’ “The North-West Passage” (1874) a grizzled mariner resolves to beat foreign rivals to an Arctic trade route to Asia, as his daughter, delicate in pink and white, reads at his feet. Copiously reproduced in its day — and deployed to lobby for expedition funds — Millais’ defining image imbued the burden of empire with the heartfelt imperative of familial duty. One of Tate’s earliest bequests, the painting fell from view until it was cleaned for this show.

“Trophies of Empire” charts the channels by which colonial objects discovered their way to Britain, from gifts to plunder. Reclassified, they formed the nucleus of today’s museums, collecting being a robust theme all through. George Stubbs’s “A Cheetah and a Stag with Two Indian Attendants” (c1764) dominates, along with a portrait of the 18th-century naturalist Sir Joseph Banks flaunting Maori regalia. There is palatial loot from Benin and Mysore but also nature studies by miniature painters such as Shaikh Zain ud-Din employed by East India Company and other patrons.

History paintings that posed as documentary to rally the British populace behind imperial adventures are grouped in “Imperial Heroics”. A style for depicting the orderly exchange of land through treaties offers way to heroic final stands that created martyrs of the defeated, from George William Joy’s “The Death of General Gordon, Khartoum” (1893) to Allan Stewart’s “To the Memory of Brave Men” (1897) on the initial Matabele war. The vengeful backlash triggered by the Indian rebellion of 1857 is exemplified by Edward Armitage’s “Retribution” (1858), in which Britannia slays a tiger that has ravaged a pale woman and child.

Yet even though several artists were complicit in imperial policy, some had been far more questioning. Elizabeth Butler’s oil painting “The Remnants of an Army” (1879) portrays an injured cavalryman fleeing battle. After seen as a lament for a heroic defeat in the second Afghan war, fresh research favours reading the painting as an indictment of a foolish campaign.

The diligent visitor will discover an immense quantity from this history of empire in 200 art objects. Yet are the grand imperialist paintings matched by visuals of equal energy? Marvellous centrepieces range from Asafo flag collages by Fante artists and Yoruba sculptures of British royals — whether or not homage or caricature — to Thomas Ona Odulate’s touching wooden sculptures of Europeans from the 1920s and 1930s. Andrew Gilbert’s installation “British Infantry Advance on Jerusalem” (2015) satirically inverts the ethnographic tableaux in military museums, full with teacups, regimental fetishes and sawdust. Yet such irony, and the captions’ subtleties, danger being overshadowed by what was, after all, powerful visual propaganda.

What does emerge strongly, specifically via mutual portraiture and the development of modernisms, is the two-way site visitors of empire, and the cultural hybridity it fostered, from dress to styles of art. Despite Gilroy’s contention that “the inability to come to terms with these disputed legacies . . . has contributed to a deep and abiding ignorance”, a basic expertise of the economic workings of empire is assumed. There is little sign of the commodities at its heart, the tea, sugar and tobacco that became portion of British identity, nor of enslaved Africans — other than Nicholas Pocock’s ink drawing of captives at gunpoint and William Blake’s manacled peon awaiting liberation by the Royal Navy at the feet of a divine Nelson. An unfortunate absence is JMW Turner’s “The Slave Ship” (1840), depicting slavers on the Zong jettisoning sick captives like ballast to claim the insurance coverage. That masterpiece is in US hands.

Offered such visual lacunae, the sinister brutality of Donald Locke’s “Trophies of Empire” (1972-74) comes as a salutary shock. Its phallic, bullet-like ceramics, some linked by leg irons (the shapes also allude to sugar cones), are arranged as in a museum cabinet. An inspiration for a generation of British artists in the 1980s, Locke’s installation was acquired by the Tate only this year. The Aboriginal artist Judy Watson’s etching “Our bones in your collections” (1995) is yet another effective response to ethnography.

These last rooms are a reminder of a legacy of dispute, not only more than the restitution of art and human remains but the redefinition of British art. The belated acquisition of artists such as Aubrey Williams (1926-1990), who moved to England from British Guiana in 1952 however, until lately, was not noticed as British adequate for the Tate, tells its own story.

‘Artist &amp Empire’, Tate Britain, London, until April ten.

Slideshow photographs: Leeds Museums and Galleries Cotton Pebble London Collection Royal Collection Trust National Museums Liverpool Manchester Art Gallery The British Museum, London British Library Tate

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Section: Arts