Wednesday, June 04, 2008

the lure of the east

I was feeling a bit blah about Tate Britain’s Orientalist exhibition, but actually it’s an extremely enjoyable show on a number of levels.

I have to confess I succumbed to the very un-PC chocolate-boxy exoticism of the largely Victorian imagery on display (although the exhibition does make the point that westerners were fascinated from the 17th century on – fantastic portraits of Charles I’s ambassador to Persia and his wife in “oriental” costume kick off the show).

But in a highly imaginative stroke (or perhaps in an effort to cover their backs ideologically), the Tate has invited Islamic scholars to comment on the paintings on display and their commentary is affixed next to the paintings along with the provenance labels. This is great, because a lot of it is very contentious and partisan stuff and definitely widens the scope of the exhibition.

Designer add-ons include a magnificent Islamic patterned fretwork screen running across the gallery containing ‘harem’ pics, and a large projected animated map showing the history of the region.

I thoroughly enjoyed this show, and will hopefully go again one quiet Sunday morning to have another look.

The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting
4 June – 31 August 2008
Tate Britain

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