I finally got to see the much-awaited Tate Modern’s autumn photography show, Klein+Moriyama. Expectations were high, obviously, especially since I had heard about this show from the mouth of the curator of photography, Simon Baker, twice last year: during a King’s College course at the Tate, and while interviewing him for the purpose of my MA dissertation.
I knew both photographers for having studied their work at school and having seen them in several exhibitions. They were both shown at the Polka Gallery in Paris in 2011 and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris showed Rome+Klein in the same year. Closer to us, as we saw in two previous posts, Moriyama has been well exhibited both in London and Paris in the past months. It is to be noted that the Barbican’s current show, focusing on “Photography from the 1960s and 1970s”, does not mention these two masters, leaving completely aside an important stylistic aspect of photography at that time.
This typical style [i.e. black and white, contrasted, grainy pictures, making the most of unusual angles and blur, thus suggesting movement and avoiding the illusion of the photographer’s detachment] is for a good part what brings Moriyama and Klein together. Even though they come from a very different background (one is Japanese, the other an American living in France), they produce lots of images of everyday life and environment, using the camera in a somewhat similar way and with close results.
This exhibition was therefore one of these two-artist shows, with all the questions that they arouse, as reviewed in the last post. The first surprise, then, was the apparent lack of link made between the two artists. We encounter Klein first, in a sort of retrospective of his life’s work, then we leave him for good to focus on Moriyama. Nowhere is there a text explaining why they were brought together or what we can draw from their being shown alongside each other. This was slightly odd.
There was, however, a very clever floor plan and hang that suggested how their paths cross: indeed, in one room are shown, on one side, Klein’s work on Tokyo, and on the other side, Moriyama’s work on New York. This “room 3” can be entered either through the Moriyama side or through the Klein side of the show, allowing the visitor to peep through to the other side without being able to cross completely. This might be the metaphor of what the curators wanted to say about the relationship between the two artists.
I personally very much enjoyed this specific room, because beyond its clever intermingling of the two artists, it reinvented the space of the Tate where the big temporary exhibitions are usually shown, often with no surprise as to the floor plan.
Another strong point of the show was the amount of material it showcased. There were a lot of images, but with a sense of rhythm and a play on scale that avoided boredom. Klein’s films and paintings were also shown, which are a very important part of his career, and for Moriyama, many books and magazines (in horizontal vitrines…) including the 5 issues of the famous groundbreaking Provoke.
As the Tate website explains, “The exhibition also considers the medium and dissemination of photography itself”, be it in the form of the books and magazine, but also in the use of prints reproductions and typography. Another interesting aspect is that the artists, both still alive, seem to have participated quite a lot in the thinking behind this show, even though it is difficult to know exactly to what extent just by visiting.
My final word (as there could be a very long reflection on this exhibition, but we need to contain ourselves) would be to mention an incredible little room towards the end of the show, covered in a mosaic of Moriyama’s Polaroids of his studio. This was just incredible. It seemed like a little island of colour and stillness in this world mostly in black and white and in rapid movement. It takes you somewhere quite different than the pictures you see before and after, but you feel like you are really entering the artist’s private world and discovering an expensive gem. It is fun, and quite an interesting visual experience.
William Klein + Daido Moriyama | New York, Tokyo, Film, Photography | 10 October 2012 – 20 January 2013 | Tate Modern