Harrier and Jaguar are two recently decommissioned fighter planes that sit in the Duveen Galleries of Tate Britain, supported by Sotheby’s and devised by previous Turner Prize nominee Fiona Banner. One jet lies belly-up and the other suspended nose-down, demonstrating both their vulnerability and killer instincts, reminding us simultaneously of the birds of prey (and captivity) they imitate. However, the monumental size of the planes – this is Banner’s largest work to date – and the fact that they sit in one of the most prestigious museums of the UK, means you feel more like you’re inspecting their prehistoric ancestors, which makes for a humbling and intimidating experience.
Having been stripped of its paint the Jaguar is reflective, which is supposed to throw questions of its purpose and responsibility back at the viewer. However, the piece is anything but apologetic or deferential – more like a Koons’ bunny, the slick, silver beauty shows off its design and master engineering. Conversely, the Harrier has been decorated with mock feathers, somewhat ‘fluffing’ up its function to kill. These minor interventions by Banner felt like a weak attempt at camouflaging the planes as art – I thought her decision to exhibit them within the neo-classical galleries of an art museum, provoking questions of intellectual, aesthetic and moral position outside of the traditional militaria museum and hanging system was strong enough.
Fiona Banner’s Harrier and Jaguar is the latest Tate Britain Duveen Commission, supported by Sotheby’s, which has previously included Eva Rothschild and Michael Creed. The Duveen Sculpture Galleries opened in 1937. The galleries, funded by Sir Joseph Duveen, were the first in England to be designed specifically for the display of sculpture, a controversial statement in itself. When read within the retrospective context of its surrounding, Banner’s Harrier and Jaguar demonstrates the importance in challenging traditions of display, reminding us of the powers of art to present, provoke and engage.
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