Arts Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm at the Tate Britain

2nd October 2013 – 5th January 2014 –  Curated by Tabitha Barber


The Tates recent exhibition is the first to explore the history of attacks made on artworks that are iconoclastic over the last five hundred years. It is divided into three different sections: Religion,Politics and Aesthetics and is an intriguing collection of work. Although many of the artworks that were damaged have now been restored, there are still traces of protest present. A striking example of which is the Man of Sorrows, a painting of Christ which had quotations from the bible written over the top of it, making the original artwork difficult to discern.

The exhibition “begins with attacks on art by individuals and ends with the works of contemporary artists for whom the ideas of destruction and change are forms of creation.” Most grossly personified in Jake and Dinos Chapman’s ’One day You Will No Longer Be Loved II’. Having bought an original portrait in oils, the Chapman brothers have defaced the artwork by painting a disturbingly ugly face over that of the original, as an act of questioning the elite and their untouchable status.

More striking than this however was the presence of the sculpture ‘Chair’ by Allen Jones which had paint stripper thrown over the face of the sculpture by feminst campaigners on 8th March, 1986 – National Womens Day. The offender was quoted “ I found the sculpture deeply offensive to my womanliness and my sex”.

Although the exhibition has had mixed reviews, it is an interesting account of attacks made on art that has provoked both fear and outrage for its iconoclastic status. The exhibition is curated by Tabitha Barber and Stacey Boldrick and interestingly, ninety percent of the work shown is English.