Crack at the Tate Modern – Doris’s Crack

The crack in the floor at the Tate Modern has swallowed its first victims.

The Guardian reported that an onlooker said “We saw the first poor victim, a young woman who went into it with both feet up to just below her knees. She had to be dragged out by her friends,”
“Unbelievably, as we watched to see whether she was OK, an older woman deliberately stepped on it (she later told us, amazingly, that she thought the crack was painted on the floor) lurched forward and landed on the ground. She had a sore wrist to show for it.”

tate modern crack in the floor

I wonder if the Tate Modern is paying extra insurance for this installation? A hole in the ground is an insurance disaster waiting to happen.

The installation is by the artist Doris Salcedo and is called “Shibboleth” or has been nicknamed “Doris’s Crack” (which makes me giggle.) There’s a video interview with the artist here at the Tate.

After looking at the pictures of the crack in the floor, I didn’t get the impression that this is a work about race or society, but the artist believes there’s more to it than an interesting hole in the ground..

Salcedo is addressing a long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world. 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


“In breaking open the floor of the museum, Salcedo is exposing a fracture in modernity itself. Her work encourages us to confront uncomfortable truths about our history and about ourselves with absolute candidness, and without self-deception.” Tate Modern

I’m not anti-installation or anti (challanging) contemporary art, I just wish artists wouldn’t take themselves so seriously. It’s an interesting crack in the floor of a museum that makes visitors look down. It makes me think of a scary few days I had in Turkey, when there was a massive earthquake. It probably makes floor repair men think about hard work.

I just don’t think artists should try and complicate their work.

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Not only do artists at this level of “seriousness” simply preach to the choir (I think the majority of people at art exhibitions already share the point of view of the artist), but I have become increasingly intolerant of artists, usually half my age, trying to function as a moral agent for me and usually with such grand, sweeping themes as “war is bad”, “AIDS is tragic”, etc.,just name the cause and the obvious response. It would seem that I champion art of lesser substance, but I argue that since no artist has control over anyone’s response, and since there are literally millions of quotidian things and events the meanings of which could provide any artist with plenty to address, why not look for substance that is a little harder to find. The efforts of most artists trying to raise awareness seem to me mostly pathetic and ineffectual. Though I risk rendering all of the above into idiotic ranting, I might add that I am a sucker for beauty that is hard to find and see.

  2. Anon, my general outlook on art is that if it doesnt speak to me while looking at it, the artist hasnt been clear enough in delivering their message. If the work of art needs an essay to explain what it means, the artist should be a WRITER, not a visual artist.


  3. Anonymous says:

    I’m guessing that our points of view are similar or at least overlapping.
    A crack in the floor probably requires an essay and I most certainly agree that if an essay is required the artist should perhaps think about writing instead of visual art. I was trying (and perhaps unsuccessfully)to make the point that maybe visual art has a point beyond which it cannot communicate and should be left to other forms. Most of the time I have felt that artworks addressing humankind’s largest issues are inadequate and, for me, tend to trivialize. No painting, sculpture, installation or video art can match the weight of war, racism or bigotry for me.

  4. Hi Dion

    I agree with you and Anon. Grandiose statements don’t hide pathetic attempts at art. They merely irritate. A true work of art hits you, and you don’t need any patronising codswallop to back it up, although I would be interested to know of any scientific explanation as to why a work of art hits me the way it does.

    I don’t know where the Guardian got the idea that these recent falls were the first victims of Doris’s Crack. I noted the first 3 victims on 10/10/07, soon after it opened:

    BBC News reported these falls, so the Guardian seems rather clueless. I’d like to know exactly how many people have fallen down that ridiculous crack so far. The figure is at least 5.

    And still nobody has sued! Are they too embarrassed?

  5. Anon said well what many think including myself!

  6. Anonymous, I couldn’t agree with you more. For me, these “explanations” of art have the opposite effect: they destroy all pleasure of looking at a piece of art uninhibitedly. The whole process of letting art make its way through your mind and leave an impression of any kind is frustrated, and they let you end up wondering about the “essay” more than about the piece itself.
    By the way: why would The Guardian have used the word “amazingly” in describing the reaction of the older woman who fell in the crack? Is it hard to imagine the connection “gallery” – “paintings” still exists as a first association for some people?


  7. I’m not sure the people could sue. I mean if there is a sign saying ‘cliff edge’ and you jump over, whose fault is it but your own?

    I know what people mean about causes being associated with artwork and to some extent I agree. However I think this artwork illustrates division, in a very literal sense (as well reminding me of earthquakes and natural disasters)rather well.

    Artists are encouraged to have explanations with their artwork. It’s a catch twenty two situation really: if you don’t write one people think you can’t define your own artwork, if you do it can seem as if all artwork is about a set number of ‘themes’.

  8. I don’t think I would have needed an essay to see that the crack represents a divide of some kind. However it looks like a divide, a crack, created by nature rather than a cultural/social attitude created by humans. So I am not sure it works for me in the context the artist wanted, even after reading the explanation.

  9. I agree helly, a lot of people want explanations or they ask for them, or like you said there is a requirement (by galleries and museums) that you articulate what is behind the work.

    Me thinks sometimes you just can’t win.

  10. Yeah, true Helly and Jafabrit.

    Some artists get carried away with themselves though and end up complicating something that should be pretty straight forward.

    Anon, I agree. Art has limitations. As a painter I sometimes envy movie makers as they have such a powerful medium. A film can make a person laugh or cry quite easily. Movie makers are probably most equipped to cover things like war, racism or bigotry too.

  11. An article in the New Statesman addressing this issue.

  12. Thanks for sharing the article Matt.

    Maybe I’m treating installation art and painting in the same way, which could be wrong.

  13. An interesting thing, this crack. I don’t have a problem with people falling into it – in fact I am quite pleased that public artworks that are a touch hazardous are still allowed to exist.

    But I agree with all the comments about the total crap talked about the meaning of the work. Aesthetically, it is in fact quite pleasing – I for one don’t need anything more. I certainly don’t need psuedo philosophical/socio-political explanations – in fact such things just make me think much less of the artist, and even less of the curator.

    But one has to ask why artists and curators think such nonsensical verbage is required? Is it because so much of the art we see is empty – we look at it, and most of us respond at best with a kind of bemused shrug. We think there’s nothing much there in what we see and then we read the attached verbage in an attempt to understand why the assembled ugliness has been deemed worthy of a place in a gallery. The verbage just invites us to feel stupid for not seeing the embedded meanings, which are almost always invented after the fact. The artist almost certainly made this work because they liked the look of cracks and thought that making a really big one, indoors, would be pretty interesting to look at. That should be the end of the story, though the vacuousness inherent in that goes against a whole industry of curators, critics and institutions.

    I think if a work of art is empty looking, by which I mean one that provokes neither real feeling nor real thought nor real appreciation, we should just leave it that way, without words. It might be bad art, but at least it’s honest. Let emptiness be it’s own ghastly message. There’s plenty of that about.

  14. I think it’s human nature to analyse things and in the face of huge amounts visual imagery, of course people will contextualise it. What people make (including other art forms) reflects society so looking at artwork a bit more deeply does have value.

    That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t appreciate art as they find it. An artwork without a viewer is like a band with no audience, there’s room for everyone to join in.

  15. Well, I wonder how many people didnt step on it cause they thought it would break their mother’s back.

  16. See Andy Goldsworthy’s installation at the DeYoung in San Francisco

  17. Not much going on in the art world today, I see.

  18. The Tate Modern building is an absolutely epic place to display art and is an artwork in its self, now even more so.

  19. Don’t believe the reports that a young woman fell down the crack up to just below her knees. I’ve seen the crack ‘Shibboleth’ and is not that wide approx 3 inches at most and the crack is not that deep it just gives the appearance of depth. If there was a woman who fell down the hole she would have to be size -20 or some sort of feakishly thin person. Even a small baby would have trouble falling down it.

    Also why is it when someone tries to communicate art that featured alot in the media (and may not be the traditional idea of ‘Art’ is) people have to critisise and verbally demolish it. Is it because by bad mouthing the art work they feel that they are somehow making themselves look clever and maybe more important than the artist. Is it a case of jealousy that it was the artist and not them that was credited for the work with thought of “Oh I could have done better than that. Or maybe the concept is so simple that you in your own self-important state feel patronised by its description.

    I think we (and especially in the art world) are taught to critisise and to a less extent find what we personally as individuals like and feel about pieces of work.

    Why not just look at a piece of artwork and see what it communicates to you. Your perspective as an individual may not be the same as the artist and you may find a different reason for liking it. If you feel it you feel it if you don’t well there’s other things to look at.

  20. Its HARD sometimes, to write nothing about the work youre making, when there is so much more to it. its HARD to just “let it go” and if people get something out of it, then great, but you know that they would appreciate it all the more if they knew some background.

    I think it has to work on its own, but when someone wants more, there is more to give.

    Hitchcock made great films, but “Vertigo” is unequivocally better after knowing Hitchcock’s own personal obsessions. it richens what is already a rich product.

  21. Anonymous says:

    It’s a shame that health and safety issues should be of so much concern. The crack is what people go to see so it seems strange that it could catch you unawares. Regarding installation Found a page by a company called Brick Image that were involved in the instalation.. doesn’t give much away but still interesting:


  1. […] another video of the Tate Crack here. >>  Doris’s Crack, Comments on Doris’s […]

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