Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm will be the first exhibition to explore the history of physical attacks on art in Britain from the 16th century to the present day. Iconoclasmdescribes the deliberate breaking of images. Including paintings, sculpture and archival material, the show will explore 500 years of assaults on art. It will examine how and why icons, symbols and monuments have been attacked for religious, political or aesthetic motives, opening 2 October.
The exhibition will include a remarkable example of pre-Reformation sculpture, the Statue of the Dead Christ c.1500–20, discovered in 1954 at Mercers’ Hall beneath the chapel floor and on loan for the first time. Other highlights include fragments of monuments destroyed in Ireland during the 20th century, paintings attacked by suffragettes in 1913 and 1914, and Allen Jones’s Chair, 1969, damaged in a feminist attack in 1986. As well as public actions against art the show will also consider artists such as Gustav Metzger, Yoko Ono and Jake andDinos Chapman who have used destruction as a creative force.
State-sanctioned religious iconoclasm of the 16th and 17th centuries will be represented by brutally damaged sculpture from the Great Screen of Winchester Cathedral and defaced illuminated devotional books from the British Library. Medieval stained glass panels removed from the windows of Canterbury Cathedral will be exhibited for the first time alongside Thomas Johnson’s 1657 painting of the Cathedral’s interior showing Puritan iconoclasts in action. Objects will be accompanied by vivid written accounts of destructive actions.
Examples of actions against figures and symbols of political power will include fragments of the statue of William III and of Nelson’s Pillar destroyed in Dublin by blasts in 1928 and 1966 respectively, as a result of the ongoing struggle against British authority. A portrait of Oliver Cromwell hung upside down by the staunch monarchist Prince Frederick Duleep Singh (1868–1926) will also be included.
Suffragette attacks on cultural heritage are represented by Edward Burne-Jones’s Sibylla Delphica 1898, attacked in Manchester Art Gallery in 1913, and John Singer Sargent’s Henry James, 1913, slashed at the Royal Academy in 1914. Archival documentation of the attacks will accompany the works, as well as police surveillance photography of the militant protagonists.
Art that stimulates aesthetic outrage is represented by Carl Andre’s EquivalentVIII 1966, the subject of verbal vitriol but also physically attacked in 1976. As well as attacks on art, the show will reveal how for some artists destruction can be utilised as a creative force. A piano destroyed by Ralph Montanez Ortiz during the 1966 Destruction in Art Symposium will be on display for the first time alongside an audio recording of the event, as well as works by Gustav Metzger, John Lathamand Yoko Ono. Portraits from Jake and Dinos Chapman’s One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved series will be included, and Mark Wallinger’s Via Dolorosa, 2002.
Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm is curated by Tabitha Barber, Curator 1550–1750, Tate Britain and Dr Stacy Boldrick, Curator of Research and Interpretation at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, with Dr Ruth Kenny, Assistant Curator 1750–1830, Tate Britain and Sofia Karamani, Assistant Curator, Contemporary British Art, Tate Britain. It is accompanied by a catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.