Art turning left

2013-11-24 16.06.59

Last Sunday we decided to drive over to Liverpool to have a look at the new temporary exhibition at the Tate – "Art turning left". It’s billed as 

"the first exhibition to examine how the production and reception of art has been influenced by left-wing values, from the French Revolution to the present day."

The exhibition takes a thematic approach asking questions such as,

  • ‘Do we need to know who makes art?’,
  • ‘Can art affect everyone?’,
  • ‘Can art infiltrate everyday life?’,
  • ‘Can pursuing equality change how art is made?’,
  • ‘Does participation deliver equality?’,
  • ‘How can art speak with a collective voice?’ and
  • ‘Are there ways to distribute art differently?’

It’s had very lukewarm reviews in the Telegraph, Guardian and Observer, but as members it’s free to get in and being sympathetic to the politics, it was something we wanted to see. After our visit I’d tend to agree with the reviews that it is a bit of a mixed bag, at least as far as the works on display is concerned. However, for me, it achieved it’s objective in making me think about the questions being posed.

Art Turning Left web banner for Tate Liverpool exhibition

One of the questions I found particularly relevant in a week where a picture by Lucien Freud sold for a rather obscene 142.4 million dollars was “do we need to know who makes art?”. Does the worth of a painting depend on who painted it? In the auction houses the value of a work depends on who painted it and whether it includes their signature. Does the purchaser of the Bacon painting value the painting for what it is or because it was painted by Bacon and is signed by him? Does the purchaser actually like the painting or does he/she like the signature? How much would it be worth if there was no evidence that he painted it? This type of question is raised by the German born Uruguayan artist, Luis Camnitzer in his work Self-Service ,

sheets of paper were ceremoniously displayed on five white plinths, where different sentences such as “Aesthetics sell; ethics waste” and “One signature is action; two signatures are transaction” could be read. By the side of the papers was another plinth with the artist’s signature rubber stamp and a box to collect money. Anyone who visited the show could leave with an “original copy” of a Camnitzer’s work in exchange for one coin, just by using the rubber stamp with Camnitzer’s signature on the photocopies available. (source)

Visitors can stamp one of the sheets and take it away for a modest fee of 20 pence which is donated to Liverpool Food Bank.

Although there are no really "great" works on show, there were some of interest. In particular some Russian Constructivist paintings, posters by the Atelier Populaire from Paris 1968,

Atelier Populaire poster

works by the Guerilla Girls, which raise important questions about the place of women in the world of art (well, the world in general, actually)

Guerrilla Girls, ‘[no title]’ 1985-90

some pictures from Brecht’s "War primer", including an aerial shot of Liverpool in the aftermath of an air raid during WWII, some items from the  Bauhaus (most of them loaned from the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, which we visited earlier this year) a political jukebox, and a copy of Jacques Louis David’s "Death of Marat"

Jacques-Louis David The Death of Marat (La Mort de Marat) 1793–4 Oil paint on canvas depicting Marat lying dead in his bath as he was writing a letter

David, a supporter of the the French Revolution, wanted to find  ways of makig art more widely available and had copies of his painting made by workers in his studio and distributed across the country.

Amongst my favourites of the works on show (and a discovery) were a small number of political woodcuts from the 1930’s by a German artist Gert Arntz.

Linocut print by Gerd Arntz

who deserves to be more widely known.

So although it wasn’t a particularly coherent exhibition, and not everything appealed, it was well worth the visit and we do intend to go for another look before it’s run comes to an end.  An exhibition to make you think, not simply admire pretty pictures.

2 thoughts on “Art turning left

  1. Pingback: Gerd Arntz – Artist and Activist | Down by the Dougie

  2. Pingback: Camden Arts Centre | Down by the Dougie

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