The sea and sky are the first rivals any artist exhibiting at Tate St Ives has to reckon with. A big, bold view of both fills its beach-facing galleries. In the spectacular new concrete-roofed extension that opens this week, there are no views, just lots of bright natural light streaming in from above. Then again, instead of views, there are the works of all the 20th-century artists who settled in Cornwall and created the strand of British modernism that led to this museumâs existence.
The airy paintings of Peter Lanyon and the organically orotund casts and carvings of Barbara Hepworth have never looked better than they do in the reborn Tate St Ives. Even for a sceptic like me, who doesnât believe British abstract art ever rivalled the likes of Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock, the union of this art with the seascapes that inspired it is compelling.
Unfortunately, the abstract artists who created the St Ives school are much more at home here than the first contemporary artist to show in its grand box of a new exhibition space. Rebecca Warren is left seeming like a metropolitan interloper whoâs not sure why she is here or what her art is for.
Warrenâs exhibition fails to fill the vast room it is in. Her sculptures are dotted around the space rather than inhabiting it convincingly. Some are terrific, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Itâs a pity because Warren is a hugely interesting sculptor. Her art is sensual, tactile, meatily physical. She moulds clay and casts it, and forces massive pieces of steel together. Her new works include colossal totemic figures cast in bronze and painted with a deliberate childlike sloppiness. Their grotesque hints of faces and bulbous hands give them a crudely humanoid aspect, their chaotic forms warped by bulges, ridges, drips and…