Colombian Artist Salcedo Creates Rift at the Tate Modern


A new exhibit in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in London consists of a 548-ft. fissure, a tiny crack that widens from one end of the vast hall to the other. The installation, called “Shibboleth” by its creator Doris Salcedo, is a metaphor for racism, according to the Telegraph, but its implications are much greater:

“It is as though the foundations of the whole building have been shaken by an earthquake, so that by implication the vast space we are standing in is fundamentally unsafe. When you peer down to look deep into the void, you see that the sides of the interior are covered with wire mesh of the kind that is used to seal off borders and control crowds.”

Said Salcedo: “It represents borders, the experience of immigrants, the experience of segregation, the experience of racial hatred. It is the experience of a Third World person coming into the heart of Europe. For example, the space which illegal immigrants occupy is a negative space. And so this piece is a negative space.”

According to the Tate, “A ‘shibboleth’ is a custom, phrase or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. By definition, it is used to exclude those deemed unsuitable to join this group.”

The museum and artist are choosing to let the process of its creation remain a mystery, yet the exhibit will be closed next year when the crack will be filled in: “There is a crack, there is a line, and eventually there will be a scar and that scar will remain. It will remain as a memory of the work and also as a memorial to the issues Doris touches on.”

“Shibboleth” opens today and will be on display through April 6, 2008. (slideshow)



  1. says

    the damage to the Tate Modern foundations is due more to the application of such a cracked explanation.
    it’s a shame that they ruined such an incredible maxi-minimal installation piece with such a clichéd attempt at pseudo-noble positioning of concept. the work stands alone magnificently without any need to support it with defensive correctness.

  2. says

    She does a lot of work with furniture: walls of chairs, chairs cut into pieces, etc. One of my favorites is a chair encased in cement.

    This piece reminds me of the installation in the new De Young museum in San Francisco by Andy Goldsworthy. That chair in cement is there, I think.

    It is tempting to associate the seemingly apparent simplicity or ease of execution with artistic worth or merit. I believe that should be avoided, because it sets up a false standard – that art must be hard to create or comprehend or it isn’t art.

  3. says

    The floor in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall slopes down from the main doors so I’m guessing that they installed a series of concrete slabs covering the original floor in order to achieve the effect. It certainly looks like that from the first photo at the top left.

    And yeah, it’s a poor rationale in this case but you can always ignore the justification and enjoy the work for what it is, something I do regularly with contemporary art. Artists frequently have to justify their works post facto otherwise those works won’t sell or they won’t receive grants or commissions.

    It’s always funny coming here and seeing people who are usually open-minded about other matters tutting and shaking their heads like fussy old matrons whenever the subject of art is raised.

  4. Steve says

    “It is tempting to associate the seemingly apparent simplicity or ease of execution with artistic worth or merit. I believe that should be avoided, because it sets up a false standard – that art must be hard to create or comprehend or it isn’t art.”

    I see where you’re coming from but it sounds to me like something of a post-hoc justification for the general dullness of most modern art (not to mention intellectual laziness of modern artists).

    As for “art” being hard to comprehend, I think you have a point, too often the art world mistakes obtuseness for profundity.

    It’s sad we live in a time where art is uninspired and uninspiring.

  5. says

    It isn’t post-hoc anything – this is the same criticism contemporary artists of every age always endure – e.g. Monet and Degas “destroyed art” and Turner “flung a pot of paint at the canvas” etc., etc. It is reactionary to the absolute core, and dismissive without being critical.

    Dull? Intellectual laziness? Uninspired and uninspiring?

    I don’t agree with any of this. In another argument, one might argue that the art is too intellectual to be accessible to general public. Which is it? Both are generally untrue, and rather are opposite sides of a spectrum where most art exists.

    I can agree that obtuseness can be mistaken for profundity, but the most extreme examples can not be taken and made a standard by which all contemporary art is judged.

  6. bierce says

    Good art speaks for itself. If you have to explain what it represents or what people should be thinking about when they look at it, you’ve failed.

  7. Princess Superstar says

    Art isn’t art unless you think it is. The emeror is stark naked unless you decide to see his new clothes.

    Artist, heal thyself.

    Alternate title: Brokeback Mothers

  8. nic says

    to get a better feel for what this installation is about, all anyone need do is take a stroll across any of the international bridges that connect (divide?) the u.s. and mexico. the metal, the mesh fencing, the razor wire, and all the contrivances used to keep “undesirables,” or the “other,” out attest to the validity and relevancy of salcedo’s piece.

    moreover, the rupture of the foundation of the turbine hall of a staid landmark is a strong metaphor for the schisms, chasms, culture clashes and culture shocks of individuals, families and compatriots occasioned by the erection of artificial borders set up by imperialistic colonization of “lesser” peoples.

    a dominant or occupying culture cannot continue to undermine the basic principles of a conquered or dominated culture without weakening and fracturing the underpinnings of the support they both rely on. nadine gordimer, the 1991 nobel prize winner for literature and anti-apartheid activist wrote insightfully, incisively, and provocatively about this very subject.

    i don’t know which to disdain more, the anonymous neo-nazi’s brandishing crowbars, destroying serrano’s art, or the anonymous, judgmental, flippant sissies brandishing what they presume to be clever locutions savaging salcedo’s work. the neo-nazi’s are thugs, but the queers should know better.

    art is perhaps the only artistic medium where one need know nothing, yet still be a critic: we all know the chestnut, “i may not know art, but i know what i like.” the impressionists (monet among them), the fauvists (cezanne and matisse among them), the dadaists (duchamp among them), the cubists (picasso and braque among them) were all initially dismissed.

    “shibboleth” is a perfectly apt title for this exhibit. from its origin in biblical times, it has been a password or marker to distinguish a person or group from the group who determines what that shibboleth is. hence, nowadays, it represents whatever that marker means to the group in power (the in-crowd, as it were). all those not knowing the secret password need not approach. or, if they do, they do so at their own risk.

    we gays should know all about shibboleths. we invented many in our sub-culture, and we have been scape-goated and cruelly treated by those not of our own design.

    shame on you.

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