Axes, pianos, Yoko Ono and statues of Christ as Tate Britain sees Art Under Attack

By Culture24 Reporter | 01 October 2013

When Tate Britain’s Art Under Attack exhibitions opens this week, it will draw a line between medieval sculpture and 20th century performance art.

A photo of a sculpture of a female mannequin poised in a sexually suggestive position
Allen Jones, Chair (1969)© Allen Jones
The link, perhaps more than any other commonality across the show, will actually be salvation: a rediscovered piano was presumed destroyed during the brutal-sounding inaugural Destruction in Art Symposium of 1966, but will be displayed after curators discovered it had survived its performance in the Duncan Terrace Piano Destruction Concert, held at the home of a vogue London couple during the 1960s.

A recording of the “destruction” was simultaneously broadcast on American radio, but its existence is perhaps less miraculous than the pieces which remain from the Reformation period, when the vast majority of sculptural works were lost.

Still, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, the player behind the piano, says the gig was a satisfying one. “The first hit of the axe proved my theory,” he recalls.

“The sound resonated as I have never heard before. With a final axe swing the harp came loose and tumbled down the stairs.

“I remember standing the harp of the piano up, tilting it out of the pile of splintered wood that was once its art nouveau façade. Bits and pieces of axe-sliced black and white piano keys were scattered everywhere I looked.”

The 16th century Statue of the Dead Christ was found beneath a chapel floor 60 years ago, and other monuments come from the suffragette movement of a century ago. Stained glass panels come from Canterbury Cathedral, defaced devotional books are usually held at the British Library and modern artistic contributors include Jake and Dinos Chapman and Mark Wallinger.

Yoko Ono says her dress section, worn for a performance at the symposium and held by the Tate Archive, represents a memory of the gathering responsible for the “initial creative force” driving the show.

“It changed the map of the art world,” she believes. “Before DIAS, art seemed to have been something that was happening in the United States for the rest of us to acknowledge and envy.

“After DIAS, the strong creative force in art became the stuff of this side of the Atlantic, and never went back.”

  • Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm is at Tate Britain from October 2 2013 – January 5 2014. Book online.

More pictures:

A photo of a medieval stone sculpture of a biblical figure lying horizontally on a plinth
Statue of the Dead Christ© The Mercers’ Company
An image of an upside down medieval painting of a man in profile against a black backdrop
Oliver Cromwell (hung upside down)© Highland Council
An image of a destroyed wooden sculpture featuring various twigs and coloured elements
Duncan Terrace Piano Destruction Concert: The Landesmans' Homage to 'Spring can Really hang you up the Most' (1966)© Tate Photogrpahy
A black and white photo of a man destroying a piano with an axe
Duncan Terrace Piano Destruction Concert (1966)© John Prosser
An image of a painting of a man with a large wound across his bloodied face
Jake and Dinos Chapman, One Day You WIll No Longer Be Loved II (No 6) (2008)© Jake and Dinos Chapman. Photo: Todd-White Art Photography, courtesy White Cube
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