Cover image of the review
John Martin, The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum, 1822, restored 2011, oil on canvas, 1616 × 2530 mm. Photo © Tate.

Light: Works from Tate's Collection

6 Aug 2022
Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) 16 Jun - 13 Nov 2022

As that which makes visible the visible, light is the ur-medium of art. How then to mount an exhibition that takes this ur-medium as its subject, when almost any work could be included on the grounds that light is needed to reveal it? Kerryn Greenberg and Matthew Watts, the UK-based curators of Light: Works from Tate’s Collection, have responded to this challenge persuasively by focusing on two preoccupations which have endured and evolved in Western art since the late eighteenth century. Across a group of seventy works, divided into nine thematic sections, they track changes in light’s standing as an object of artistic scrutiny and shifts in the way it has been harnessed as creative material.

On descending to view the show in ACMI’s basement, it becomes clear that the lighting technicians were not to be outdone by the artworks. Dimness shrouds the galleries, which are linked by illuminated archways. Paintings and works on paper have been dramatically spotlit. Electrical works are beacons in the gloom. These luminal theatrics enhance the exhibition’s conceit, but they do invite confusion on occasion. At one point, I tried to slip behind a curtain to view a glowing work that lay beyond. To my surprise, it was no work at all, but rather a lamp beside the exit, at which I had arrived prematurely by means of an inadvertent shortcut.

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