A Sweet Time at Tate Liverpool. November 2010.

I spend a couple of hours at Tate Liverpool today. It is over a decade since I last visited.

It is a great gallery: a wonderful building, and a very good size – there’s a lot there, but you can cover it all in an hour and a half or so.

There were two exhibitions on: Touched, part of the Liverpool Biennial, and displays from the permanent collections – three different views, each curated by a different artist – Carol Ann Duffy, Wayne Hemingway, and Michael Craig Martin.

I wasn’t too impressed by the quality of the art in Touched – but it really made me think, which I guess means it worked, at least on some level. I didn’t like the art, but instead I liked the ideas. Is the art the artefact or the idea?

There were two pieces – both installations – that grabbed my attention. One, by Eva Kot’atkova (I hope I got that right!) was all about stories we tell: it was called “Stories from the Living Room”. Everywhere I go, stories and the ongoing narrative seem to dominate. Yesterday I ran a workshop for a client to establish the story for an individual customer – that was their language, not mine. Narrative seems to be the driving idea – the narrative, even – for our time.

The other piece I liked was by Jamie Isentein. “Empire of Fire” featured lighted candles, safety equipment, and the set of Jean-Paul Sartre’s stage play “No Exit”. And Ms Isenstein’s hand. It was full of humour, but really disturbing – positively spooky.

The curated displays from the permanent collection were full of school visits. Loud, but not unruly – they were very well behaved. Carl Andre’s “144 Magnesium Squares” was surrounded by kids. Most pieces were protected by signs prohibiting use touching or markers to make us keep our distance; not the Andre. But no one went too close: it was surrounded by kids keeping their distance. This was strange. I asked one of the many Tate staff if one could walk on it, and he said yes – he was amused by the way no one dared step onto the metallic squares. So I did – to the horror of the schoolkids. Suddenly I, rather than the art, took their attention. It felt like I was participating in the art.

The permanent collection has pieces from many of my favourite artists – Richard Long (two pieces on display – a word-piece and a slate circle), Anthony Gormley, lots of Picasso, Donald Judd. It was wonderful walking around looking at these works. Magic.


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