Art under attack show to feature damaged Christ statue

Statue of the Dead Christ The Statue of the Dead Christ was discovered in 1954 and is on loan for the first time

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Over the centuries art works have been smashed, slashed, defaced, even bombed.

Now the Tate has unveiled plans for the first exhibition to explore physical attacks on art in Britain from the 16th century to the present day.

Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm opens at Tate Britain on 2 October.

The centrepiece of the show is a damaged sculpture of Christ that lay hidden for hundreds of years beneath a floor of a London chapel.

The Statue of the Dead Christ (c. 1500-1520) is missing its crown of thorns, arms and lower legs - thought to be the result of a brutal attack by religious reformers in the 16th century.

Start Quote

It's a hard exhibition to make because very often we are dealing with fragments”

End Quote Penelope Curtis Director, Tate Britain

The statue was discovered beneath the chapel floor of the Mercers' Hall in central London in 1954. Experts think it may have been buried to protect it from further damage.

Tate curator Tabitha Barber said she was "delighted" that the the Mercers' Company had loaned the sculpture to the exhibition.

"Confronted by the statue today, its emotional impact is still such that the danger of such images feared by 16th century reformers - the confusion between the real and the represented, or the sinful worship of an image instead of God - is near enough to be imagined.

"This incredible loan will help us to explore the methods and motives behind attacks on art in Britain over 500 years."

'Too topical'

At Friday's launch at Mercer's Hall, Tate Britain director Penelope Curtis admitted that the exhibition was almost "too topical" given a recent spate of attacks on art in the UK.

Last October, a Mark Rothko mural was defaced with a marker pen at the Tate Modern gallery. A week ago, Constable's The Hay Wain was targeted by a protester in the National Gallery.

Portrait of Oliver Cromwll (hung upside down) The exhibition features this upside down portrait of Oliver Cromwell from Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Ms Curtis said she had conceived the idea for a show about art attacks before she joined the Tate three years ago.

"It's a hard exhibition to make because very often we are dealing with fragments, and things which were hidden," she said.

The show explores why art has been attacked for religious, political or aesthetic motives.

Exhibits include fragments of a statue of William III and Nelson's Pillar destroyed in Dublin during anti-British attacks in 1928 and 1966 respectively.

A portrait of Oliver Cromwell hung upside down by the staunch monarchist Prince Frederick Duleep Singh (1868-1926) will also feature.

Attacks by suffragettes are represented by two paintings, Edward Burne-Jones's Sibylla Delphica, attacked in Manchester Art Gallery in 1913, and John Singer Sargent's Henry James, slashed at the Royal Academy in 1914.

The curators stress that the exhibition is not about acts of random vandalism but "iconoclasm" - acts of destruction inspired by an ideology.

The show will also consider how artists themselves have used destruction as a creative force. A piano destroyed by an axe by Ralph Montanez Ortiz in 1966 will go on display for the first time accompanied by an audio recording of the event.

Asked about the security arrangements for exhibition, Ms Curtis told the BBC that the said that security levels at Tate Britain changed "week by week depending on circumstances".

Recent attacks on art works, she said, had been an "unhappy coincidence" while the exhibition was being put together.

"We all regret what's been happening recently because it's made it too topical almost," she added.

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