We all know that critics can be cruel, particularly when they hunt in packs. And it is not just artists who can be savaged by critics but curators too, as the curators of All Too Human at Tate Britain have been finding out. The charge against them is that they have put together a major exhibition at an important time for the institution which is intellectually incoherent.
It is a criticism which is highly damaging for Tate Britain, already the forgotten sibling of the Tate family in London and overshadowed again this summer by Tate Modern’s outstanding exhibition, Picasso 1932 (reviewed here). When I visited the show, albeit on a fine early summer’s day, Tate Britain felt empty and forgotten. It’s nice to avoid the massive crowds of disinterested students who roam in packs around Tate Modern, but it’s in everyone’s interest that Tate Britain rediscovers some of its younger siblings star quality.
Unfortunately it is also a criticism that rings true. The core theme of All Too Human appears to be the evolution of figurative painting in post-war Britain, or to be accurate amongst a core group of London based artists. The central characters are Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud, Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, William Coldstream and Euan Uglow, Michael Andrews and RB Kitaj, and Paula Rego. But sadly, there is very little that connects them. There is so much of a gulf in the approaches to painting of, say, Francis Bacon and Euan Uglow that there is nothing to be gained by exhibiting them together. And if the intention is a general survey of post war British figurative art, why include Soutain and Giacometti, neither of whom had anything to do with the UK, and why exclude David Hockney. The show ends up feeling like a series of disjointed trailers for other exhibitions.
That is not to say that you should not go. You should, because there are some inspiring works of art. But should go with the understanding that you have to approach the exhibition as you would approach a visit to the permanent collection, selecting individual works which attract your attention and ignoring the rest. Some of the works which particularly caught my attention are highlighted below.