A Relatively Unknown Artist Gets A Major Retrospective: Saloua Chouchair @ Tate Modern

Retrospectives at Tate Modern are synonymous with blockbuster shows featuring household names like Hirst, Kusama and Munch. So it’s surprising that its most recent exhibition looks at a Lebanese artist that most people will have never heard of, and who remains relatively unknown in the Western world.

Saloua Chouchair’s achievements are substantial. Her output has been prolific, creating works since the 1950s when it can’t have been easy as a female artist operating in the Middle East. But what to make of her works? Is there enough content and impressive works in this exhibition to attract the millions of visitors who stream into the Tate?

The show opens with the striking leading image that’s been used in the advertising. It’s a bold angular self-portrait that retains an intensity despite the pastel palette. It’s a great opener but not really representative of her works, which can be split between her wall-mounted compositions and her sculptures. The exception is a set of paintings of nude women going about their daily life, but their cartoonish appearance makes it hard to see them as more than mere homages to Western art.

Her colourful abstract compositions also appear lacklustre and don’t offer anything you haven’t seen before. The saving graces of this show are the sculptures, which justify the admission price alone.  They vary from the monumental and rigid towers to peaceful remnants of a tortuous creative process, where they’ve been melted, twisted and penetrated but still stand resolute.

Though her sculptures are made from solid stone or wood they also have a sense of fragility in that a slight knock could send them tumbling. The final futuristic room is radically different, with lenses entangled within metal wire — a hint at how difficult it is to change people’s perspectives, a challenge Chouchair must have faced on many an occasion.

This is a welcome change in approach for the Tate Modern but the £11 admission is likely to put people off, especially when £4.50 more buys you a ticket to the Lichtenstein exhibition, which has significantly more mass appeal. Let’s hope our fears don’t come to fruition as this is an exhibition worth taking a chance on.

Saloua Raouda Chouchair is on at Tate Modern until 20 October. Tickets are £11 for adults, concessions available.

Lichtenstein: A retrospective is still on at the Tate Modern until 27 May.

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