Sometimes I go to places and think things: Tate, Liverpool

7 May

I spent this delectable, sunny Bank Holiday weekend oop nooorth visiting my dearly beloved E. Our activities included (but were not limited to) babysitting a tiny curly-haired tot, cooking, drinking, wearing silly clothes, playing Carcassone, walking through woods and watching Doctor Who. We cracked open a box that had been rusted shut for some time and discovered the family dressing up box, containing a pair of leggings so fierce they actually made eyes water. Drinking necessitated wearing said leggings and frankly, I came away inspired. I will be acquiring my own pair of paisley leopard print leg coverings very soon, make no mistake.

Anyway, our mutual interests are slightly broader than just getting wazzed and dressing up so on Sunday we went into Liverpool, narrowly avoiding the derby match. We spent a thoughtful hour or two in the Tate at the Albert Dock and it got me thinking. Here are some of the blossoms (I wouldn’t say they’re sufficiently developed to call them ‘fruits’) of my musings on the subject.

The first exhibition was about sculpture. So far, so reasonable. The breadth of medium, styles and influences was vast – two buckets welded together to look like they were undergoing mitosis; three basketballs suspended in a tank of saline solution; a standing iron tripod ‘mobile’ – the whole gamut. Each piece was interesting as a standalone, though after the eternal Orwellian rule, some were more interesting than others. I was intrigued by the blurbs describing how various pieces had been at other exhibitions and had been moved, or lost (the infamous urinal-piece being one of them) or intended to look different. What does this add to or take from the piece as it stands? Do we need to know the context from which it was taken in order to understand the piece in its new context, or does this cloud our understanding of what it means ‘now’ at the moment of our first interaction with it?

I suppose if the gallery wants to explain why the three basketballs that you may have seen neatly spaced out in a picture don’t look quite the same now because the piece has been moved, that’s fair enough. On the other hand, perhaps decline and decay is fundamental to the process of art and doesn’t need to be ‘explained’. Perhaps explaining that this has happened makes it part of the art in a way that was never intended. Perhaps the intentions of the artist don’t matter once the work is finished and let loose into the public domain. Or perhaps the decline does need to be acknowledged (although whether it’s ‘acknowledgement’ or ‘unnecessary pointing out’ is another question again).

Anyway. At the time, I was quite happy to just look at the stuff, read the blurbs where I wanted to and ignore the ones where I didn’t. Some of the art didn’t catch my attention and some of it held on with considerable tenacity. I’m no art critic and I don’t have an informed understanding from which to draw conclusions that others in that field would find meaningful. But. Bear with me.

The next series of exhibition rooms was called ‘Constellations’. Here’s a link so you can check it out for yourself if you so wish: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/display/dla-piper-series-constellations. The idea behind the collection as I understood it was to display works by different artists that complemented and set off each other in illuminating ways, to create a sort of constellation – a series of links and branches that can be defined by one name even though they are light years apart in real space and time. Some of the links were more obvious from the pieces than others – some were pretty difficult for my untrained eyes to make out. Crucially, though, I took away these thoughts.

  • Outwardly acknowledging and actively promoting the juxtaposition of particular artworks to demonstrate linking features is a new and interesting thing – it encourages the reception of these artworks in a certain way. Instead of seeing them as individual pieces, the viewer sees them in the context of ‘the gallery’ or ‘the exhibition’ rather than ‘the frame’.

That’s all well and good, for starters, although as was pointed out to me when I suggested this was interesting – all galleries and exhibits encourage a particular reception of materials.

  • The point of the curator is to select pieces that create chemistry between each other as well as on an individual basis. While the explicit self-awareness of this Tate collection is a new (to me, at least) and interesting thing, it is not new per se.

If all space in which we experience art defines or helps define how we respond to it, this says an awful lot about how we ought to treat reception theory and reception studies. Physical space and proximate objects can affect our reactions just as much as our cultural background, our political ideals, our gender, our age, our education and/or our language.

Well. I haven’t decided whether the self-awareness of the Constellations collection and its directive nature is something with which I am comfortable, yet. I am aware that so many other receptions – of literature, film, music and the rest – are heavily dictated by the ways in which we experience them and these ways are all manipulated by those who manage said media. Explicit acknowledgment of that manipulation is a step in a thought-provoking direction, if nothing else.

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One Response to “Sometimes I go to places and think things: Tate, Liverpool”

  1. property law June 29, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    I every time spent my half an hour to read this blog’s content everyday along with a mug of coffee.

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