YOU’RE GOING to need to take some time out for this one, so put aside a few hours, maybe even half a day to visit the Tate Modern before May 11 as they present Steve McQueen in the first survey of his work in the UK for over 20 years.
Featuring 14 major works spanning film, photography and sculpture, the exhibition is an unprecedented opportunity to experience the depth of McQueen’s visual art career in this country for the first time since he received the Turner Prize in 1999.
‘As an artist I often think you can be a vessel for something and you’re sort of giving this thing over to Londoners but London is giving so much back to you’
That auspicious title has since been joined by an Oscar (2014) and two Bafta’s (2009/2014) to boot, a first for any artist if this journalist has his facts right.
His life’s work demonstrates an almost freakish breadth, it’s as if we’re all playing catch up and McQueen is providing gems that allow us to think and feel as freely as he does, if only for fleeting moments.
Sharing his thoughts on the personal and intimate works on display at the Tate modern McQueen, who was knighted in the New Year Honours, said: “I remember my first school trip to Tate when I was an impressionable 8-year-old, which was really the moment I gained an understanding that anything is possible.
“I am very happy to be presenting my work in my hometown of London, especially at Tate Modern, where in some ways my journey as an artist first began.”
Another incredible first and an achievement not to be sniffed at given the history of the institution is that Steve McQueen at Tate Modern coincides with McQueen’s latest artwork, Year 3, on show at Tate Britain until May 3.
The exhibition is an epic portrait of London’s Year 3 pupils created through a partnership between Tate, Artangel and A New Direction
Speaking to the Voice earlier this year at the launch of Year 3 McQueen didn’t downplay the importance of ensuring that art and the Tate is seen as a space for all.
He enthused: “As an artist I often think you can be a vessel for something and you’re sort of giving this thing over to Londoners but London is giving so much back to you. It’s a two way thing.
“It’s not about me or the project, it’s about us.
“There are a few words that are thrown about like the word diversity, which makes me want to vomit.
“For me what this exhibition does offer is a visualisation of the future, a real visualisation of the future.
“One can imagine it, but here you can actually see it. You see them on the walls, it’s about us. I want kids to be involved with art.”
Over the last 25 years McQueen has created some of the most innovative works of moving image designed for gallery spaces, as well as four critically acclaimed films for cinematic release: Hunger (2008), Shame (2010), 12 Years a Slave (2013) and Widows (2018).
His exhibition reveals how his pioneering approaches to filmmaking have expanded the ways in which artists work with the medium, creating poignant portraits of time and place.
Any young filmmaker in the industry who harbours serious ambition of making their way in the business should attend this exhibition. And pay attention to the detailed way McQueen stuck steadfastly to bringing some of his most important creations to life.
I was particularly drawn to Exodus, which reflects on migration and multiculturalism in London. McQueen’s earliest film shot on a Super 8 camera the footage drew me in without even hearing any audio.
The film documents two men carrying palm trees through the streets of east London. McQueen tracked the men through a bustling Brick Lane Market. It’s McQueen’s earliest film and the only one in the exhibition made before 1999.
It’s also a poignant reminder that there is nothing new under the sun. What captivated me most was the fact there are thousands of ‘wanna be film directors’, people shooing content, just take a look at YouTube. But how many of them will stay the course? How many will battle through every conceiveable opposing force, keep rising, be recognised and still continue to lift the bar the way McQueen has?
The answer is simple, very few.
I doubt McQueen would have expected that reaction to his exhibition but as Achim Borchardt-Hume, the Director of Exhibitions and Programmes at Tate Modern, explained, there are no expectations on how the art makes one feel.
He said: “I get asked all the time about whether exhibitions are accessible and how will people understand them and I think for instance people who have lived the black experience or awareness of it, you look at a piece like Exodus and you think that you understand it immediately. Then there are a whole lot of other people who need a very long explanation of what it is.
“That in itself is very interesting because you start thinking who’s work is being seen and what do you claim is accessible in a museum context and what is not.”
Giving his insight on some of the elements of the exhibition he found captivating Borchardt-Hume said: “The two works that I find startling, and there are many, but one is Static, which is the helicopter circling around the statue of liberty because it is so emblematic of what Steve can achieve with his work that you have a screen with a projection front and back of the Statue of Liberty and you walk around it.
“And you suddenly look very closely at something that you’ve seen endlessly in films and in productions. And as you look at it you begin to circle it, quite literally circle it and circle the idea of it and think what is it to have a monument of liberty and freedom and are the United States the promise land of liberty and freedom and who for and what are our ideas? How do we relate to this? I think it is extremely compelling because it’s so extraordinary on a formal level but then provokes you to stay with it and explore all of these ideas.
“Similarly I think 7th Nov, because it narrates this incredibly tragic, haunting story of the cousin who by accident killed his brother.
“To film it in a way that you can actually stay with the experience and really stay with the person who tells you their particular story, it’s not a clichéd story. It’s an extraordinary thing to do. I think straight documentary wouldn’t do it.
“It’s this odd thing that you would love to see him but that is the one thing that you not get to do so his identity remains protected.
“I think to work that through how that functions as a film is extraordinary.”
It’s difficult to enter the vast space at Blavatnik Building where Steve McQueen is being hosted and have a closed mind.
It’s cleverly curated, genuinely something for everyone, a piece of McQueen you have or haven’t seen.
7th Nov. 2001, as Borchardt-Hume says, is a deep one and one of the reasons I started this piece by suggesting you take half a day to take this whole exhibition in. You might even go twice.
As part of the exhibition McQueen has chosen to display one of the screens of the two-channel film Caribs’ Leap 2002 on the iconic river façade of Tate Modern.
Shown on a giant seven-metre screen Caribs’ Leap traces a day on the Caribbean island of Grenada, portraying the cycle of life and death. By showing this work overlooking the River Thames, McQueen invites the viewer to consider the histories and transatlantic connections between Grenada, where the artist’s family is from, and the everyday life of London, which is home to many people of West Indian descent.
More recent work includes the haunting two-channel video installation Ashes 2002–15, offering a moving tribute to the memory of a young fisherman the artist met and filmed in Grenada in 2002, who was killed by drug dealers the following year.
For the first time in the UK, audiences can view End Credits 2012–ongoing, McQueen’s homage to the African-American singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson who, after a successful career as a performer, was blacklisted in the 1950s and put under surveillance by the FBI.
The work consists of rolling slides of the FBI’s reports on Robeson with a soundtrack of voices reading from the heavily-redacted documents.
As you can imagine, there a quite a few reports but don’t let that stop you.
Steve McQueen at Tate Modern is curated by Clara Kim, The Daskalopoulos Senior Curator, with Fiontán Moran, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern and is organised in collaboration with Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan.
Steve McQueen with Paul Gilroy
Tate Modern, Starr Cinema
17 February 2020, 18.30–20.00. Tickets £12, £8 concessions
As Tate Modern presents the first exhibition of Steve McQueen’s artwork in the UK for 20 years, this is a unique chance to hear the artist discuss his practice. McQueen will be joined in conversation by Professor Paul Gilroy from University College London. The conversation will be chaired by Clara Kim, The Daskalopoulos Senior Curator, International Art at Tate Modern. The evening will be introduced by Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern.
Uniqlo Tate Lates: Steve McQueen
28 February 2020, 18:00-22:00
Across Tate Modern; admission free
Expect an eclectic mix of art, music, film, street food, drop-in discussions and pop-up talks inspired by the Steve McQueen exhibition.
Steve McQueen: The Gallery to the Cinema
Tate Modern, McAuley Seminar Room
Every Monday 18.45–20.45, 24 February – 16 March 2020. Tickets £100, £70 concessions
A four-week course examining Steve McQueen’s gallery-based moving image work alongside his feature films, with presentations, discussion and screenings. Led by Richard Martin, Curator of Public Programmes at Tate, and featuring guest speakers.
Steve McQueen: It’s Just a Matter of Time
Tate Modern, McAuley Studio
14-15 March 2020, 12.00 – 18.00. Tickets £60, £40 concessions
A weekend workshop led by writer and curator Mason Leaver-Yap looking at the different ways writers might respond to moving image artworks. Over the two days participants will discuss a range of experimental approaches to writing and will have the chance to develop their own writing practices, with visits to the Steve McQueen exhibition.