See the 7 Most Refreshing Artworks Inspired by Swimming Pools
From Matisse and Hockney to Elmgreen & Dragset.
How many swimming pools have you encountered this summer? What about over your entire life? The immense variety in structure, size, location, and atmosphere of the swimming pool has inspired artists for generations.
Dive into this list of artistic responses and renderings of the swimming pool to plumb the hidden depths of this surprising muse!
1. David Hockney, A Bigger Splash (1967)
If you’re looking for an image to adorn your fantasies about sipping frozen margaritas by the pool in paradise, then look no further than David Hockney. The iconic British artist’s beautiful 1967 A Bigger Splash is just one of his many depictions of California swimming pools. His choice of acrylic paint rather than darker oil paints aptly captures the effects of the California sunshine and although the glamorous location is fictitious in this instance, the iconic 1960s modernist architecture and palm tree combo is not exactly a California rarity.
A Bigger Splash is on display at Tate Britain.
2. Leandro Erlich, Swimming Pool (1999)
This incredible art installation is by Leandro Erlich, an artist known for creating fabulous optical illusions. In true contemporary art fashion, Erlich’s installation transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary with a simple shift in perspective. Visitors can peer into what is ostensibly a normal swimming pool, only to see swathes of fully clothed people ambling around at its bottom. The secret is that the pool is actually an empty room, and the deception is achieved by a simple piece of glass covered in a few inches of water.
Swimming Pool has a permanent home in the 21st Century Museum of Art of Kanzawa, Japan. It has also had temporary installations at MoMAPS1 and the Venice Biennale.
3. Elmgreen & Dragset, Van Gogh’s Ear (2016)
Earlier this year, the mischievous Scandinavian duo Elmgreen and Dragset were commissioned by the Public Art Fund to install a 1950s-style swimming pool at the Rockefeller Center in New York. However, in keeping with the signature tongue-in-cheek style of the the pair, you can’t actually swim in it. Van Gogh’s Ear is instead positioned upright, becoming a Dada-esque sculpture that disrupts our expectations of the pool as a horizontal and accessible structure.
4. Wolfgang Tillmans, Hallenbad Detail (1995)
Wolfgang Tillmans is perhaps best known for being both the first photographer and non-British artist to win the Turner prize in 2000. In a different vein to the other entries on this list, Tillmans’ image captures a more “every day” experience. In what is probably a more familiar summer reality for many people living in rainier climes, this somewhat grim view of an indoor swimming pool transports the viewer to their local leisure center, the smell of chlorine burning their nostrils, verruca socks and swimming caps just out of sight.
5. Henri Matisse, The Swimming Pool (1952)
One day in the early 1950s, the greatly admired French artist Henri Matisse decided to construct his own pool on the walls of one of his rooms at the Hôtel Régina in Nice. And so the walls were lined with a band of white paper onto which Matisse pinned his own blue cutouts of divers, swimmers and sea creatures. The installation is the artist’s first and only site-specific cut-out, and is now held by MoMA.
6. Philippe Decouflé, Swimming poules et flying coqs (2011)
This impromptu “happening” was put together in just a few days after being commissioned by the Mettre en Scène Festival (see image at the beginning of the article). The humorous performance piece featured an energetic ensemble of dancers and was shown live in conjunction with several underwater cameras. Replete with hilarity and a touch of the absurd, it offered a rebellious defiance of the draconian rules that seem to suck the fun out of many public swimming pools.
7. Dan Attoe, Mountain Swimming Pool (2015)
Dan Attoe’s landscapes are inspired by places he has lived or visited, or are hewn together from snippets of our collective visual vocabulary. This placid oil on canvas explores man’s influence on nature by depicting the natural element of water contained in a man made structure, the uniformity of which contrasts with the sublime backdrop of a natural mountain landscape.
Attoe’s full set of Landscapes with Water can be viewed online.
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