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August 08 2012

Liverpool prepares to mark Slavery Remembrance Day

The city's 13th annual celebration will see major building renamed after Martin Luther King, with his son unveiling a plaque

Liverpool's links to the slave trade are well-known, and will be recalled on 23 August at the Slavery Remembrance Day organised by the Museum of Slavery. A number of events are being held in the city this month, including a visit from Mr Martin Luther King III, son of the murdered US civil rights leader.

Liverpool apologised in 1999 for its prominent role in the 'triangular trade' which saw ships sail to West Africa, ship slaves to the Caribbean and return laden with sugar. The radical Liberal prime minister William Gladstone was the son of a major slave plantation owner and much of the centre's noble architecture was built with profits from the trade.

The date, which Liverpool has marked every year since the apology, commemorates an uprising of enslaved Africans on the island of Saint Domingue, modern-day Haiti, in 1791. It was chosen by UNESCO which picked it as a reminder that enslaved Africans played a major part in their own liberation.

The museum says:

This year we welcome Martin Luther King III, eldest son of the great Civil Rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Our guest offers a powerful reminder that it is as important as ever to acknowledge a major period of trauma and injustice in world history.

You can see the full programme of events on the museum's website here. Highlights include a memorial lecture from King, a Walk of Remembrance and a libation ceremony. In a specifically local tribute to the King family, the Dock Traffic Office, a National Museums Liverpool building, will be named after Martin Luther King Jr with a plaque unveiled by his son.

The museum also quotes an excerpt from Slavepool, a poem by Mohammed Khalil, recounting the city's role in the slave trade:

Branded like beasts who feel no pain
And all for Merrye Englande's gain

But England's Changing-Rearranging
Only we can clear our Name

Growing! Knowing! Trade Winds are blowing!
Things'll nevva be the same.

Liverpool Slavery Remembrance Initiative is a partnership between National Museums Liverpool, individuals from the Liverpool black community, Liverpool city council and The Mersey Partnership.

The museum says that the Day seeks to:

commemorate the lives and deaths of the millions of enslaved Africans and their descendants who were central to the rise of Britain as an industrial power.

remember that we live with the legacies of transatlantic slavery such as racism and discrimination and ongoing inequalities, injustices and exploitation

celebrate the resistance, rebellion and revolution that ended slavery, as well as the rise of popular movements for racial justice and social change that said both then and now "never again".

It adds:

Resistance to injustices and discrimination is a central theme of the International Slavery Museum and that is why we fully support the continued observance of this important event.

Liverpool's most famous sugar name, Tate & Lyle, dates from well after the abolition of slavery. Henry Tate - commemorated in the four galleries including Tate Liverpool which used his money and bear his name - and Abraham Lyle did not start their refining businesses until 1859 and 1865 and neither's family had previous involvement in the trade. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 25 2012

Turner Monet Twombly: audio art tour

A new show at Tate Liverpool explores the similarities between the artists Turner, Monet and Twombly in the last years of their lives. Jonathan Jones gives an interactive audio tour

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June 19 2012

The great upstager: how Monet made Turner and Twombly look ordinary

Cy Twombly seems fake by comparison – and JMW Turner like a man who painted with custard. Jonathan Jones on Claude Monet's domination of an exhibition showcasing the three artists

The American painter Cy Twombly died last year at the height of his fame. He was 83, but recognition had come late; it was in his 60s and 70s that he reaped the rewards of a lifetime of making art, and, as the glory grew, created many of his most ambitious works. The comparisons grew more lavish until, by the end of his life, he was exhibiting alongside the classical master Nicolas Poussin. In Tate Liverpool's new exhibition, it is JMW Turner and Claude Monet who are lucky enough to share the honours.

Is it wise to short-circuit art history like this, blithely assuming that a famous name of our own time can hang alongside hallowed giants? It does not help that Tate Liverpool has made a slightly stale selection of Twombly's works. It seems like only yesterday that I was moved by one of his epic paintings about the lovers Hero and Leander, at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London. Now I'm having to weep for Leander by the Mersey, too. Twombly's paintings, inspired by the myth about a young man who drowns while swimming to his love across the Hellespont, are here juxtaposed with Turner's 1837 painting of the same story. In Turner's treatment, lofty temples and impassioned figures are eclipsed by a boiling, glistening sea. This has an honesty and rugged complexity that makes Twombly's misty colours seem sentimental.

Twombly's finest painting here is Orpheus, from 1979, which raises the troubling possibility that his famous late years were in fact a period of decline. On a white canvas, a huge handwritten O makes an eerily beautiful black drawing. Each letter of the name Orpheus shrinks in size: as you read the name, it is as if Orpheus fades away into his own song.

Twombly died with the reputation of a living Old Master. This exhibition releases him from that burden by revealing some massive flaws, especially when you set him beside Monet. The curator has hung some splashy, multicoloured splurges next to ravishing Monet garden scenes. Never work with children, animals, or Claude Monet. The quiet Frenchman is a great upstager. If he makes you worry about Twombly's sincerity, he can also make the marvellous Turner look like a man who painted with tobacco juice and custard. The two Ts are theatrical and self-consciously grand, painting for history. Then along comes Monet, with a painting of water lilies in a reflected glowing void – and his simple beauty seems more profound and suggestive than any amount of mythology.

Twombly remains a fascinating artist, but this show makes too many assumptions about his claim to greatness. (It also misses something about him – humour, perhaps, or sex.) Near Twombly's Four Seasons hangs an utterly scintillating flower painting by Monet. It seems to have more colours in one spot of its surface than Twombly can muster across an entire epic. You do not need the Hellespont to drown in: Monet's pond is deep enough. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 15 2012

Cy Twombly's late works alongside Turner and Monet

A threefold show of sensuality and symphonic emotion at Tate Liverpool, plus openings of work by Yoko Ono, Bruce Nauman and Andy Warhol – all in your quality weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the Week: Turner, Monet, Twombly

The death of Cy Twombly in 2011 deprived the world of a mighty painter. Colour in art is the language of feeling. Twombly spoke that language with a langorous drawl.

Born in Lexington, Virginia, his sensibility seems steeped in the melancholy of the American south. That poetic quality was sharpened in New York and matured in Italy. As a young man, together with his close friend Robert Rauschenberg, he confronted the Abstract Expressionist style that flourished in 1950s New York with intimate, earthy references to real life. The result was a richly allusive way of painting which flourished after he settled in Rome and immersed himself in the history of the Eternal City.

This exhibition takes very late works by Twombly and compares them with the late paintings of JMW Turner and Claude Monet. This is a tough test for Twombly's reputation. Will his art truly stand up to these masters?

Monet's late works are overwhelming. His waterlilies hang suspended in time and space, in paintings that melt into abstraction. Turner too became precociously abstract with age. So this is an exhibition about the nature of abstraction – about where it meets the stuff of life.

I expect Twombly to be right at home in this company. The exhibition anyway ought to be an incendiary nocturne of sensuality and symphonic emotion.
· Tate Liverpool, from 22 June

Also opening

Yoko Ono
One of the most original and daring artists of the 1960s, whose performances break barriers between artist and onlooker.
• Serpentine Gallery, London, from 19 June

Bruce Nauman
A founder of the postmodern in art. Nauman is represented here by his work Days, a meditation on time, comparable with the works of composer Steve Reich.
• ICA, London, from 19 June

Andy Warhol
Is there really more that is new and exciting to reclaim in the art of Andy Warhol, or is he perhaps due some dead time?
• Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, from 20 June

Dead Standing Things
Still life under Dutch influence makes for a fresh glimpse of British art in this special display.
• Tate Britain

Masterpiece of the Week

Charles Collins, Lobster on a Delft Dish, 1738

This gorgeous still life with its shiny red lobster takes us to the precise, keen-eyed, and passionately materialistic world of the 18th century Enlightenment and is a gem of the Tate collection.

Image of the week

Five things we learned this week

Art doesn't have to be visible to be wonderful

There's a greyhound with a painted pink leg on the loose in Kassel, Germany

Renzo Piano's Shard is "not about priapismo"

Tracey Emin would have liked to be taught by Louise Bourgeois

How Rachel Whiteread battled with the elements while making her Whitechapel frieze

And finally

Have you seen the Guardian Art and Design Flickr page? Share all your latest cultural snaps there

Show us your artworks with Share your art

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June 08 2012

Turner, Monet, Twombly – a trio of sublime painters

Tate Liverpool's forthcoming show, at first sight an unlikely grouping, reveals a web of affinities that gives a new aspect to each

JMW Turner may be the most familiar of all British artists, but his allure remains so great that curators are on a permanent mission to find new angles from which to view him. The current trend is compare and contrast. In 2009 Tate Britain staged Turner and the Masters which looked at the way Turner measured himself against earlier painters. Turner in the Light of Claude, which has just closed at the National Gallery examined his engagement with the great 17th-century landscapist Claude Lorrain. The latest manifestation of our obsession with the man is Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later Paintings which opens at Tate Liverpool this month. This exhibition, however, scrolls forward and looks at the artist in company with his successors rather than predecessors.

It is at first sight an unlikely grouping: while the links between the romantic Turner and the impressionist Monet are well documented, Cy Twombly, the 20th/21st-century American painter of pale, abstract calligraphic canvases, seems to have little affinity with either of them. The exhibition though reveals a web of affinities that gives a new aspect to each. This is not a study of master and pupils or indeed of direct painterly influences but of shared themes and sensibilities. It is also about a long and unbroken painterly tradition: between them, Turner (1775-1851), Monet (1840-1926) and Twombly (1928-2011) form a three-generational strand that runs through nearly 250 years of western art.

At one point the third painter of the trio was going to be Mark Rothko, until the full extent of Twombly's links with the older artists became clear. Before Twombly died last year, the exhibition's curator, Jeremy Lewison, had time to meet him just once in the planning stages of the show. Despite neither Turner or Monet featuring in the artist's previous interviews or writings it transpired that he owned an autographed letter from each of them as part of his collection of artefacts from artists he particularly admired. Twombly had already long identified himself with them.

The similarities Twombly saw and that this exhibition makes explicit include what Lewison lists as: "An interest in allusion and metaphor, a preoccupation with mortality, a liking for atmospheric effects and an engagement with the tradition of the sublime." On a less elevated note, all three painters were also the victims of vituperative reviews and critical miscomprehension during their careers.

If these correspondences suggest that the resulting pictures are gloomy the opposite is true. In later life all three painters had the self-confidence of old age and were not only still experimenting but producing some of the most radical work of their careers. They may have revisited the subjects of their earlier paintings – landscape, fire, water, the seasons – but they did so with urgent vigour. As Twombly put it: "I've found when you get old you must return to certain things in the beginning, or things you have a sentiment for or something. Because your life closes up in so many ways or doesn't become as flexible or exciting or whatever you want to call it." As age took its toll on their physical power all three men found their flexibility and excitement in paint instead.

Indeed the proddings of mortality, of time and loss, memory and desire, spurred each of them on: between 1829 and his death in 1851 Turner produced 240 paintings; from 1897 to 1926 Monet made 482; and in the last 12 years of his life Twombly painted more than 70 (compared with 58 in the previous 18 years). The length of the past and the shortness of the future hit all of them in a rush. It was not enough though: Monet wrote at 78 that "I think I shall die without ever having arrived at something to my liking."

For all the airiness of their themes, however, the three men were never painters of nothingness. They each remained faithful to their chosen motifs. Turner may have complained that "Atmosphere is my style, indistinctness my fault" but, for example, the nebulous late canvases that so mystified and sometimes outraged his contemporaries, were not just experimental washes of sky, water and land but paintings that were not yet paintings and which often became the basis for fully formed works.

Because there was a large dose of the showman in his nature, he would arrive at the Varnishing Days before the annual Royal Academy Summer Exhibition with one of these rudimentary pictures and totally transform it. The days had been instituted so that exhibiting artists could make minor tweaks to their pictures to take into account the rooms, light and paintings surrounding them. Turner called them "painting days", however, and used them not to adjust but to transform his pictures and also to prove to himself and younger artists that he could still do it. It was, said one contemporary, like watching "a magician, performing his incantations in public". The results would be recognisably Turnerean, although arrived at in a new way.

Because he was incapable of working from imagination, the huge scale and near-abstract qualities of Monet's waterlilies were a case of the painter settling on a motif through which to work out feelings of grief. He had first painted waterlilies in 1899 after the death of his friend Alfred Sisley and his own step-daughter Suzanne, and he returned to them later in response to emotional hardship. The death of his son Jean; the growth of cataracts in his eyes; the death of his second wife, Alice; the outbreak of the first world war, all were dealt with by painting these watery scenes traditionally associated with mourning and calm. So fixated had he become that when he left for a painting trip to Venice Alice wrote "What a miracle that he has left his garden! How happy I am!"

Twombly too turned to arcadia with a series of huge paintings of peonies sharing the title Blooming. These rich, blowsy flowers from which paint dribbles in rivulets are a metaphor not just for transience but embody too the sensuality of life. In his last decade Twombly said he worked "in waves because I am impatient … I take liberties I wouldn't have taken before" and the paintings are the proof. Exemplified by his extraordinary Camino Real (2010), they show a new interest in colour. They are pictures of supersaturated shades – inky reds, livid oranges, fizzing greens – so unlike the tonal politeness of his earlier pale work.

Elsewhere the links between the three are more exact. Monet first encountered Turner's work when he came to London with Camille Pissarro in 1871 to escape the Paris Commune. The pictures he saw in the South Kensington Museum – now the V&A – made a deep impact and engendered a sense of emulation. Some historians have suggested that the founding work of impressionism, Impression, Sunrise (1872-3), was painted as a direct result. Turner was not an impressionist avant la lettre but Monet's Thames paintings and especially the series depicting the Houses of Parliament, painted between 1900 and 1905, were undoubtedly a response to the Englishman's own love of the river and his experiments with atmospheric effects and shifting light. Paintings of Waterloo Bridge by both artists hang side by side in the exhibition. The idea of studying one motif under changing conditions was something Monet used again in his other series showing Rouen Cathedral and haystacks.

Turner and Monet also shared an immunity to physical danger while painting. Turner claimed to have been lashed to the mast of a ship called the Ariel in order to witness the inside of a storm for a picture. Monet meanwhile nearly lost his life painting the cliffs near Etretat on the Normandy coast. He had climbed down to be able to paint the Manneporte rock arch when he was taken unawares by a wave: "It threw me against the cliff and I was tossed about in its wake along with my materials! My immediate thought was I was done for, as the water dragged me down."

Twombly was less daring: "Mainly I sit and look", he said, "I can't get on a ladder all the time, it hurts." Where he most resembled Turner was in the frequency with which he dealt with myth and history. Turner's art is full of references to antiquity – from Dido to Ulysses – and also to contemporary events, whether it was the burning of the Houses of Parliament or the scandal of a slave ship captain throwing his dying cargo overboard.

Twombly used myth not as illustrative but allusive. By naming a canvas "Bacchus" or "Orpheus" he didn't so much imply a narrative but use the resonance of the name and its residual impact in the viewer's mind to give an extra depth. He invoked a sense of nostalgia for a played-out civilisation. He too could nod to contemporary events though: his sculpture Thermopylae, referring to the battle between the Greeks and the invading Persians in 480BC, was made in 1991, the time of the first gulf war. He gave the title Lepanto, the name of the last great sea battle in 1571 between Christians and Ottomans, to a series of pictures in 2001, the year of 9/11.

Twombly described himself as a "Romantic symbolist" and that could, at a stretch, be applied to Turner and Monet too. All of them used boats, for example, to express man's passage through life, whether it be Turner's wave-tossed sailing ships, Monet's rowing boat at rest on a still lily pond, or the one-way journey of Twombly's Egyptian funerary barques.

"Meaning", however, in all three artists is always elusive and mutable and this exhibition does not focus on what the symbols represent but rather on their painterly affiliation – the shared poetry, the raging against the dying of the light, and the fact that the pictures invite a psychological reading. All three were painters of immersive canvases, works without borders that draw the viewer in to a rich and often melancholic world. Above all perhaps their pictures give the tangible sense that Turner and Monet would have agreed with Twombly's definition of the painter's motivation being all about "the forming of the image; the compulsive action of becoming". These were artists determined to the very end to discover just what painting could do and who went about it, across the centuries, in remarkably similar ways. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 09 2012

Tate announce 2013 programme

Art lovers will be able to enjoy a major retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein's work and find out how LS Lowry was influenced by the French, as the Tate galleries reveal next year's programmes

Comic strips, matchstick men and David Bowie will hit the Tate in 2013, along with Marc Chagall, Gary Hume and Paul Klee. The four galleries – Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate St Ives and Tate Liverpool – have announced their programmes for next year, which include the first major retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein's work for 20 years and a show that will demonstrate how LS Lowry was influenced by French painting.

Lichtenstein, whose comic-strip-style paintings made him one of the forefathers of pop art, will be shown at London's Tate Modern from February. The exhibition will include landmark works including Whaam!, his famous 1963 picture of a fighter plane being shot by another, and Drowning Girl, both appropriated from contemporary comics, as well as the Artist's Studio series which saw him bring his graphic, pop style to his own surroundings and other real-life art works. It will also display lesser known late work including a series of female nudes and Chinese landscapes.

The gallery's autumn show will be dedicated to Klee, a pivotal figure in 20th century art, who taught at the Bauhaus school and whose intense, radiant paintings, replete with symbolism and references to the unconscious, draw on cubism, surrealism and primitive art. It will be the first Klee exhibition to take place in the UK for more than 10 years.

The Lowry show will take place at London's Tate Britain from next June, the first of its kind since the artist's death in 1976. Last year, the actor Ian McKellen accused the Tate of neglecting the artist, after claiming that it had shown only one of the 23 Lowry works it owns – a claim the Tate denies. Though Lowry's images of matchstick-style workers in industrial landscapes are some of the most famous in British art, the exhibition promises to reveal how he was influenced by 19th-century French painters such as Camille Pissarro and Maurice Utrillo.

Tate Britain promises to unveil its refurbished galleries in early summer next year, including a re-hang that has already aroused some controversy, with Burlington magazine claiming that it was prioritising modern works over pre-20th century ones. It will also stage an exhibition of work by Hume alongside that of Patrick Caulfield, who died in 2005.

Tate Liverpool will approach another aspect of popular British art with its show Glam! The Performance and Style, which promises to demonstrate the influence of the glam rock era, from 1971 to 1975, on other art forms in Europe and America. The gallery will also host Chagall: A Modern Master, the first exhibition of the Russian artist's work for 15 years. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 31 2012

'Another Marianne Faithfull lives inside my head'

The veteran singer on her new role as art curator, the Rolling Stones, and 'the Fabulous Beast'

You are curating an art exhibition at Tate Liverpool this month, DLA Piper Series: Innocence and Experience. Your connection with that city goes back to childhood?

I was there until I was six, so it was very formative, at least if you believe the Jesuits. I remember a lot of it, particularly my mother taking me to the docks to show me the big American liners; she would say to me: "That way is America." Which set something up for me for sure. I played Liverpool a lot as a performer on tour. And when I was there I would go to the Walker Art Gallery; I remember seeing Millais's wonderful Ophelia there [at an exhibition in 1967].

You put together the show with John Dunbar, your first husband, who ran the Indica gallery in Soho in the 60s…

The person who first showed me how to look at pictures was John, when he was at Cambridge and doing his degree. We went to Rome and Florence together. We spent a lot of afternoons in the Tate and the National back then. And so we had a fabulous time going through the Tate archives for this show.

The idea is that it almost becomes an autobiographical sketch of you?

What I hope people will be seeing is something like the inside of my head.

What will they see there? We have some wonderful William Blakes, Newton sitting on what looks like the moon. Blake was a guiding spirit for me for a long, long time. My father gave me Songs of Innocence and of Experience when I was a child, which gave me the title for one of my albums. I went on living by Blake.

I always liked that fragment of his : "What is the price of experience…?"

Yes, and, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." I'm not sure if I believe that any more. Is it true? It might be. He had vision. I am not in any way a visionary like that. I'm more a channel.

The exhibition will also include Richard Hamilton's picture of Mick Jagger and Robert Fraser's 1967 drug bust, Swingeing London. You were there, of course. Does that feel like another life?

It is all very present. I look at the picture every day. I've been so glad Richard gave it to me. It has helped me a lot to see that period as art, rather than just personal trauma. I read a lot of books about those times, and these days they seem to be viewed as a disaster. I don't see it that way at all, though for me personally they were pretty rough.

Did you read Keith Richards's memoir?

I did. And I loved it. It rang true as Keith. Not that I agree with everything in it. Strangely, I am going to New York to do, among other things, a tribute show to the Rolling Stones at Carnegie Hall. With Ronnie Spector and Steve Earle and others. I will sing "Sister Morphine" at the very end.

Do you have any qualms about being in a Stones' tribute show?

Not really. There was a time I resented it because I felt I could have done anything, and just to be perceived as the creation of the Rolling Stones irritated me immensely. But there are worse things to be seen as, I suppose.

Things that seem tragic dramas when you are young seem less so when you look back?

Yes, you have to remember I was a completely insecure, self-centred, highly ambitious little girl.

Which period of your life do you think of as the happiest?

My childhood, and now. Because I have mastery. I am not drinking and not using drugs.

Do you have a religious impulse?

I do have a strong sense of God. It's impossible to explain what I mean when I say that, of course. I have to have a sense of something greater than myself to be able to stay sober. I have been in the programme for23 years but I am not 23 years sober. But I can't feel that it is all down to me, no.

You are a grandmother now?

I am. I'm 65. I have to take a lot more trouble physically. Before I spoke to you I did my 15 minutes on the treadmill. That's something I wouldn't have ever imagined. I do yoga. I do tai chi. I do a lot to keep my body and my spirit together so I can work. In the autumn I take up a position in Linz at the Opera House for three months, doing Brecht's Seven Deadly Sins, with full ballet costumes, everything.

Which of the sins do you feel you have explored most fully?

I've had a go at most, but in this piece Brecht turns them all upside down, so that lust becomes love. Pride becomes pride in your work. Envy is actually the hardest sin to make positive.

You have had more than your share of the male gaze over the years. Do you feel a bit liberated from that now?

I tried to ignore it most of the time. It's a mixed blessing but I do feel a bit liberated, although I make a great effort for my shows. A great effort to be Marianne Faithfull.

She's a creation as much as anything?

It is actually my name. It is me. But it hasn't felt like me for a long time. What has happened in the past 10 years or so, and what has been my goal for as long as I can remember, is to bring me and Marianne Faithfull into some semblance of harmony. It was her doing drugs and drinking, her inside my head, so it has been tough. The Fabulous Beast, that's what I call her.

Is that Fabulous Beast still whispering to you?

Less so. But she is very naughty. And doesn't believe anything of what I tell her is good for us. She just laughs at all that. She is not evil. She is naughty, and I shouldn't listen to her. I just have to be very careful all the time.

DLA Piper Series: Innocence and Experience – curated by Marianne Faithfull is at Tate Liverpool from 21 April to 2 September © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 25 2012

Liverpool's DaDaFest wins prestigious prize

The international disability and deaf arts festival has scooped the Lever Prize

The DaDaFest in Liverpool has won this year's prestigious £10,000 Lever Prize, just over a year after I wrote about fears over the festival's future funding due to Arts Council cuts.

The UK's largest disability and deaf arts festival, which attracts international artists was chosen by senior representatives of the 30 largest companies in the north west to receive the prize.

In 2011, DaDaFest celebrated its 10th anniversary, having begun in 2001 as a community arts event. Over the last decade, it has attracted 100,000 visitors.

When it started, there were a handful of performers; last year the number of artists has swelled to 313, with a total of 1,200 participants and visitor numbers expected to reach at least 11,000.

The festival's aims are simple – to inspire and celebrate talent and excellence in disability and deaf arts. The performances took part in mainstream venues – Liverpool's theatres, art spaces and galleries, so the festival was accessible to all audiences.

At the time, festival's artistic director, Garry Robson, explained its ethos. He said: "DaDaFest is here to present the work of deaf and disabled artists, whose work is on a par with mainstream artists.

"Disabled and deaf people are not simply passive consumers of a tragic destiny but active participants in all areas of life, with a unique and valuable cultural perspective that we plan to share during the festival."

In 2011, there was an international feel to the festival with performances from north and south America, Europe and Australia, as well as the UK. American writer and director Christine Bruno is performing Screw You Jimmy Choo, a play "about a woman obsessed with men she can't have and shoes she can't wear."

Ugandan hip-hop artist Rockin Ronnie, who is involved with Krip Hop Nation, a collective of musicians based in Berkeley, California, wrote and performed a festival theme song.

The festival's CEO, Ruth Gould, said that research undertaken to evaluate the festival shows that 75% of participants have gone on to get employment in the creative arts sector.

"At DaDaFest we know that the arts give us a voice; give us a hope in a world where we feel excluded, forgotten and ignored," she says.

Previous winners of the Lever Prize, named in honour of 19th soap magnate and philanthropist William Lever, include Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool and Manchester International Festival.

Each year the prize is judged by the North West Business Leadership Team (NWBLT) in partnership with Arts & Business North.

Arts groups, buildings, events, festivals, libraries and archives are all eligible and in addition to the £10,000 cash prize the award opens the door to collaboration with the region's top businesses. Last year's winner of the Lever Prize was the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester.

Gould said: "We're delighted the NWBLT have acknowledged the unique work DaDaFest does in representing disability and deaf culture in the north west and internationally.

"The award and resulting creative collaborations with NWBLT members will allow us to present an even more relevant and enticing festival later this year."

Geoffrey Piper, chief executive of NWBLT said: "DaDa's success in landing the 2012 Lever Prize is a truly outstanding achievement having seen off an extremely impressive range of the north west's other well-known arts organisations to win this major accolade."

This year's DaDaFest takes place from July 13 to September 2. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

December 30 2011

November 02 2011

Alice in Wonderland, Tate Liverpool

Alice Liddell inspired Lewis Carroll, whose books inspired a thousand art works. But are they any good? Adrian Searle heads down the rabbit hole at Tate Liverpool's new show

Lewis Carroll, or rather the fictive world of Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, is firmly embedded in our culture. I am surprised no one has made a religion out of Alice. Perhaps they have.

She is also very much at large in Tate Liverpool. Here she is, here she isn't: in James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake and in Jorge Luis Borges; in Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit, and in the surrealist works of Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí. Alice captivated Virginia Woolf and Walt Disney, inspired Robert Smithson, Sigmar Polke and a host of better and worse visual artists. Characters from the Alice books, or rather their putative ancestors, can be found, according to Alberto Manguel (writing in a brilliant, short catalogue essay), in Hamlet and Don Quixote, in Kafka, Homer and the Bible. The influence of Carroll's creation can be found in sci-fi, detective fiction and philosophy, in pre-Raphaelite painting and in hard-arsed conceptualism. You can't shake Alice off.

This is a peculiar show, both rich and thin at the same time. It fascinates and it bores, running from the original 1865 manuscript for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures Underground to the neon signage of the late Jason Rhoades's 2004 My Madinah: In Pursuit of My Ermitage with its brightly glowing euphemisms for the female sex. Trout Hole, Sugar Basket, Serpent Socket, say the dangling, jangling neons, and much besides. You go red-faced in the glow of them.

The Reverend Dodgson might not be amused by Rhoades, or by the smutty implication that Alice's rabbit hole could have anything other than innocent connotations – although it is hard to avoid the thought that Dodgson might have been motivated by "a sublimated desire for a pre-pubescent child", as Manguel puts it in his essay.

The show attempts a historical overview. There's much to appeal to hardcore fans, with vitrine after vitrine filled with early editions, Alice biscuit tins, themed playing cards and crockery, playbills and ephemera of a merchandising industry that is as familiar today as it was novel in the 19th century. Alice was the Harry Potter of her day. Then there are all Dodgson's photographs of the Liddell sisters, including the real Alice, and, as the show proceeds, more and more Alice-derived, inspired and related artworks. Many are curios rather than significant works. Many are horrible, and some are probably irrelevant or so minor as to be pointless.

The opening section of the exhibition is both creepy and tedious. All those images of grumpy little girls, whom Dodgson, a keen amateur photographer, entertained for the long exposures of his plates by telling them stories. It's a surprise that none of his little sitters were carried off by diphtheria or any other prevalent Victorian childhood disease while they sat before his camera. Photography was also Dodgson's calling card for his entry into the London art world, and he photographed many of the leading lights of his day, along with their children: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his family; William Holman Hunt and his son Cyril; Sir John Everett Millais and his daughter Mary (who provided the model for Millais's 1865 painting Waking, a mawkish and disturbing painting that has little Mary sitting bolt upright in bed, looking up at some unseen spot on the ceiling).

De Niro through the looking glass

Maybe there's a Jason Rhoades neon up there. I expect Mary to start levitating at any moment, declaiming obscene gibberish in the manner of the possessed kid in The Exorcist. (In fact, The Exorcist wouldn't have been a bad movie to include among the screened works here.) Robert De Niro performs his "Are you talkin' to me?" routine from Taxi Driver in Douglas Gordon's double-screen Through the Looking Glass, and people talk backwards in Gary Hill's video, which merges Through the Looking-Glass and Gregory Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind.

Virginia Woolf said the Alice books weren't for children. "They are the only books in which we become children," she wrote. Though there is plenty that may delight children (Jan Svankmajer's 1971 film Jabberwocky, for instance, or Bill Woodrow's English Heritage – Humpty Fucking Dumpty sculpture, with its bomb-like Humpty up on a wall), it is the inner adult this show really panders to. Fiona Banner's Arsewoman in Wonderland, for example, is a poster describing an Alice-inspired porno movie in graphic detail, right down to the final cum-shot. Yayoi Kusama's masked and naked performers, covered in polka-dot body paint, posed around the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in New York's Central Park in a 1968 Happening, is weird enough to disturb anyone – as are Francesca Woodman's 1972-5 black and white photographs, one of which has a lurking rabbit-headed man half-shadowed in a sunlit doorway. Better to turn to Kiki Smith's 2000-2003 intaglio etchings based on Dodgson's own illustrations to Alice, beautiful bestiaries of birds and animals swimming through Alice's Pool of Tears.

In the 1960s Alice became a doped-up, hippy-trippy pin-up. Adrian Piper, a conceptual artist and philosopher, made a number of LSD-inspired psychedelic paintings in the late 60s, some while still in high school, which as well as having a consummate period flavour are zingy and eye-chewing enough to bring on a flashback even if you've never dropped a tab. Peter Blake's illustrations to Through the Looking Glass have real graphic distinction, but there's something nasty about Graham Ovenden's Alice screenprints of young girls in soft-focus glow. Yuck is the only fit response. What's missing here – although it appears in the catalogue – is Sigmar Polke's 1971 painting derived from Sir John Tenniel's illustration of Carroll's hookah-smoking caterpillar. Another work I sorely miss is a David Shrigley photograph of a bottle left on a garden step, with a handwritten DRINK ME label; it appears to be filled with stale urine. Shrigley and Polke would have given the show a boost. Maybe Tate couldn't get the loans.

What they did get is a lot of minor stuff, including a lot of secondary 1930s English surrealism (excepting the great Leonora Carrington), alongside the Ernsts and Dalís, none of which are quite as surreal and strange as the original Alice. Conceptual artists from Marcel Broodthaers to Joseph Kosuth played with Alice, too, not always to great effect, and it seems to me that Lewis Carroll was even more conceptually rigorous, playful and thought-provoking – let alone surreal – than almost any artist who pays homage to him. This is the show's lesson: somehow the books stand above their author and those who are inspired by them. Their fictive world has become so ubiquitous that almost anything can be seen in relation to it: anything featuring a mirror, an uncanny twist, anything with a child lost in a seemingly incomprehensible adult world, anything that bends logic, or time and space. All roads lead to Wonderland, even if some are not worth taking. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

September 08 2011

Tate Modern's Oil Tanks to follow Turbine Hall in time for Olympics

'World's most exciting new art space' to open in 2012 with Nicholas Serota confident of raising £215m needed

Two enormous concrete oil tanks behind the Tate Modern, unused for 30 years, will become perhaps the "most exciting new space for art in the world" in time for the Olympics, the chairman of Tate said yesterday.

Launching the organisation's annual report, Lord Browne said phase one of Tate Modern's £215m extension plans would be opened as part of next summer's London 2012 festival, the big bang finale of the Cultural Olympiad.

Tate had hoped the full extension project would be completed by 2012 but officially conceded on Thursday that will not happen. Phase two, a building above the tankers, will now open "at the latest in 2016".

What will open next year are the two 30-metre wide and seven-metre high concrete chambers. They will be known as what they were – the Oil Tanks – just as the now world-famous Turbine Hall of the former power station retained its original name. They will become a space for installations, live and performance art, film, lectures and symposia among other things.

After that, 10 new floors will be built above them and linked to the present Tate Modern building. Tate said 70% of the money for the full £215m project had been raised, with the biggest donors wishing to remain anonymous.

The lack of government money for large projects and the recession have made raising money difficult but Tate director Nicholas Serota was upbeat and said he was "super-confident" that all the money would be raised.

Browne said it was the "single largest fundraising campaign from private sources ever undertaken in the cultural field". He added that Tate Modern was there to stand "as a defence against all that remains ugly and unimaginative within our country".

Tate Modern director Chris Dercon, who arrived in April, said visitors wanted new and different things from a museum. They wanted it to be a place for "mental and bodily exercise", where they could learn and interact. "A museum is never ever finished, it is a constant work in progress, a constant process of change and transformation."

By the time the Tate Modern project is finished there will be 70% more space to display art.

The announcement was made as Tate released its annual report for its four museums – two in London, one in Liverpool and one in St Ives.

The report shows that the public appetite for visual art continues unabated with 7.4 million people visiting the four galleries in 2011, making it the second most popular arts organisation in the world after the Louvre.

Tate last year acquired 287 works through purchase or bequest, with a total value of more than £8m.

The works included donations to the Artist Rooms collection from Jenny Holzer, Robert Therrien and Jannis Kounellis; the purchase of a room-sized fabric installation by Korean Do Ho Suh, Staircase-111 2010, which he made specifically for Tate Modern; and the acquisition of two of only four known works in oil on paper by 17th-century artist Mary Beale.

Tate said it was also extending its geographical reach, collecting more work from the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. It also this week appointed a curator for contemporary African art and continues to expand its photography collection.

The organisation said that 62% of its funding now came from private and not public sources.

One of its biggest exhibitions next year will be a Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern, while at Tate Britain there will be a show about Picasso and Modern British Art and in the autumn a big pre-Raphaelite exhibition. At St Ives there will be a show dedicated to American artist Alex Katz, while Liverpool will explore late works of Turner, Monet and Twombly.

Asked about the results of a recent staff survey which raised concerns about overwork, low pay and accusations of bullying, Serota said Tate was seriously concerned. He said: "Some of that bullying and harassment comes from members of the public and from outside people as well as within the building, but wherever it comes from we regard it as completely unacceptable".

Tate staff have had a pay freeze for three years, year one voluntary and the next two imposed by the government. Serota commented: "If you polled most staff in most arts organisations they would probably say they were underpaid and indeed most of them are." © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 14 2011

The Tate of the nation

As Tate Liverpool reviews practices and sheds staff, is it being dumped in favour of the more southerly parts of the Tate empire?

What is the trouble at Tate Liverpool? The Merseyside branch of the Tate has had a run of high-impact successes including its current René Magritte exhibition. Or were they successes at all? The apparently thriving gallery announced this week that it is to shed staff in a comprehensive review of the way it is run. Meanwhile, director Christoph Grunenberg is leaving for a new job in Bremen.

In the Liverpool and national press, the news has been received with bland acceptance. But it begs a couple of questions. Only one of two scenarios makes sense of this situation: either Tate Liverpool has been run very badly and got itself into a mess of its own making, or it is being – to put it bluntly – dumped on to protect more favoured parts of the Tate empire. Note: every other Tate museum is in the south.

Either way this is disturbing. Tate Liverpool, remember, was not founded out of pure cultural idealism. It was created to help regenerate Liverpool and the northwest. In the 1980s Conservative minister Michael Heseltine made it a personal priority to restore economic life to the city of Boys from the Blackstuff and Militant. The birth of Tate Liverpool in part of the reclaimed Albert Dock (where Atlantic shipping including slave ships once made the city rich) was part of this initiative. With its reuse of an old industrial building, it set the pattern for more recent cultural ventures including Tate Modern. Liverpool has come a long way since its economic tragedy of the 80s – but not far enough for Tate Liverpool to be irrelevant to its future.

In the northwest, public-funded service sector institutions such as Tate Liverpool are critical. I love art. But to be honest, I think Merseyside needs jobs and stimulus more than it needs lovely exhibitions for their own sake. If the social purpose of Tate Liverpool is lost, if it can't play its part in enriching a historically troubled part of the UK, what is the point of it?

This is, at best, a worrying reflection of the drift in cultural as well as economic wealth from north to south. In the New Labour era, public arts ventures helped to spread the assets of Britain throughout our regions. City centres prospered, even if it was a different story away from the high street. Now high streets are shrinking and so is the illusion of a just balance of north and south. The changes at Tate Liverpool seem to reflect these times when not even the pretence of geographical redistribution is being maintained. As the north shrinks, so does one of its most important public galleries. Why is Tate letting Liverpool down? © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 13 2011

Job losses at Tate Liverpool as director moves on

But it is hoped the jobs will go through voluntary redundancies and redeployments

There will be job losses at Tate Liverpool, its management has confirmed as it was announced that the gallery's director, Christoph Grunenberg, is moving on.

Over the last decade Grunenberg has overseen successful exhibitions by Klimt, Picasso and Matisse. He is leaving to join the Kunsthalle Bremen gallery in Germany.

He chaired the Turner Prize judging panel in 2007, when the ceremony was held at Tate Liverpool, the first time it had taken place outside London.

The announcement follows news that the gallery is to make an unspecified number of redundancies.

Tate Liverpool, which attracts around 600,000 visitors a year, opened in 1988 in a former warehouse on the city's iconic waterfront at Albert Dock.

On Tuesday it was announced the gallery would look at ways to make the gallery run more efficiently and review the number of front-of-house staff.

Staff at Tate Liverpool are considering ways to make efficiency savings and are reviewing the numbers of front-of-house staff.

It is not yet clear how many jobs will be affected by the programme of efficiency savings.

Any changes would be sought through voluntary redundancies and redeployment, Tate Liverpool said. The review will continue into 2012 and will be implemented by spring 2013.

Tate Liverpool is a beautiful space, natural light floods in from the banks of the Mersey onto its blond floors and white walls. It is currently housing a major show of the Belgian surrealist René Magritte's work.

A spokesperson for the gallery said: "The review will increase Tate Liverpool's organisational flexibility, enabling us to enhance and develop our visitor experience.

"This will include opening on Mondays year round, and maintaining special exhibitions, such as Turner Monet Twombly in 2012, at the heart of our programme."

What are your favourite moments in Tate Liverpool? For me, it was watching my daughter mesmerised by Ron Meuck's Ghost. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 22 2011

Secrets and surrealism

As Tate Liverpool's new retrospective opens, Adrian Searle investigates the strange world of The Secret Player

June 18 2011

René Magritte: enigmatic master of the impossible dream

On the eve of a major Magritte exhibition, artists with an eye for the peculiar reveal why they love the witty Belgian surrealist

TERRY GILLIAM Film director and former member of Monty Python

It wasn't until I'd seen Magritte's work collected together in an exhibition at the Tate, at the end of the 1960s I think, that I realised just how incredibly funny his stuff was. People walk around these exhibitions in a religious state of awe and I just walked round this one laughing uncontrollably. Until then, I'd always thought of Magritte as having an interesting and intriguing mind – the way he would turn things inside out or make that which was solid suddenly not solid. But suddenly here he was, this wonderfully dry joke teller. The work that really struck me that day was The Man in the Bowler Hat [1964]. He'd spent months painting a guy in a bowler hat and then, for his last brush strokes, paints a dove flying in front of the man's face. What's happened there could happen only in a photograph and he's done a painting of it. What a comedian! I thought he was so clever. If it wasn't for the ideas I wouldn't say he was a great painter because others have a better technique. But he does what he needs to do and does it so well.

All of the surrealists got into my head, but Magritte was so direct. I liked how immediate his work was, whereas the others were more abstract. His work can be complex but in a sense he takes cliché images and puts them together in ways that surprise you. There's a night scene, but the sky is day [The Dominion of Light, 1953], there's a pair of shoes that are actually feet [The Red Model, 1934]. His work has an initial gag, but the stuff sticks with you because it's in some ways profound.

He is so firmly lodged in my brain that frequently I'll see something and think, "Oh, that's a bit Magrittean". I'll look out of my window at dusk and see the house across the street catching the last bit of sunlight, except the sky behind it is already night. He captures moments of light in the day that are just odd. I used to think it was a fantasy of his, but I now find it happening all the time. Like every good artist, he makes us see the everyday differently but he does it without the pretension of so many other artists. That's another thing I like about him, that he didn't have this serious "I am an artist" approach. He went to work with a suit and a briefcase, everything about him was taking the piss out of art yet at the same time he was a wonderful artist.

In my work, I can never find a direct line between what I've done and where it's come from, but I do know where the influences are and they all end up in a kind of Irish stew in my brain. I would never want to say: "I nicked that from Magritte", because that's criminal investigation time! But it would be fair to say that with the landscapes and blue skies in the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus I could've been stealing from either Magritte or Microsoft Windows. What Microsoft did was a direct steal from Magritte! Other people paint more elaborate skies, but it's the clarity of his painting – the perfect blue sky with the perfect clouds floating in it – that's just so appealing.

Were the other Pythons influenced by Magritte? No. I'm not sure what the word is for being illiterate at art. Maybe blind. That's what they were. Years ago, we were in a hotel in Munich and John [Cleese] called me and said: "I'm going over to the Pinakothek. Do you want to come and explain art to me?" So I went along and I didn't explain art to him because that's not what I do, but I did get him looking at a thermostat on the wall and discussing it in great detail. We managed to gather quite a crowd.

I suppose with my work I'm always trying to get people to see what the world is capable of, to show how it can be seen in a very different way and Magritte did that all the time. When you start thinking differently like that, reality becomes a kind of game. In the 60s, people took drugs to achieve that state, but for a lot of people it was enough to go and look at a Magritte painting.


Whenever I drive in any mountainous region and look at the line against the sky, I think of Magritte. And whenever I see beautiful, perfect clouds in the sky, he's the first thing that comes to mind. I think there is a humanity, a generosity and a kindness to others in Magritte's work. He takes the viewer into account. And I have always found the economy of his images very moving. They communicate very purely and directly. One of the most profound pieces of Magritte's is Discovery [1928]. It is an image of a woman whose flesh resembles the grain in wood. There is this aspect of Magritte which is about dealing with the world around us, and there is a certain materiality, a reality about that world that he creates, even though he makes these strange juxtapositions.

It is hard to imagine a lot of the computer programs that we work with in daily life, such as Photoshop, without the influence of Magritte. We owe to Magritte the many ways that we see the world through transparency or gradation. So I hold him in high esteem for showing us how images can be overlapped, or how they can be gradated into each other. I wouldn't say I've ever made a piece in direct response to his work, but I can see there are works that show an interest in what he was doing. Take Les Idées Claires [1955], one of the two Magritte paintings that I have loaned to the Tate exhibition. Here, you see a rock hovering over the ocean underneath a cloud. I can associate that with one of my Equilibrium Tank sculptures of basketballs suspended in vitrines of water.

© This is an edited extract from Tate ETC magazine

NOEL FIELDING Artist and co-creator of The Mighty Boosh

I love how Magritte's paintings initially look quite normal. He lures you in with the colours and compositions and shortly after the concept blows your mind. You think: "That's just a normal… aagh!"  They're like Trojan horses.

I've still got the first book I had of Magritte's work. It's stolen from the library, that's so bad! I was about 12 years old and looking at the paintings was a bit like taking drugs. They're such strong, stimulating images for a child because at that age you don't drink, you don't take drugs and you're not really interested in girls.

The first painting that made me think, "Oh my god, that's something amazing" was Young Girl Eating a Bird [1927]. I liked how enigmatic Magritte's work was, how you didn't quite know what was going on. Surrealism and absurdity, Monty Python and Vic Reeves, they were the first things that I really buzzed off and thought, "wow, that's what I want to do". The fact that there was a surrealist movement really appealed to me too, that they met up and drank crème de menthe in weird Parisian cafes. I loved that these grown men like Breton and Magritte would really seriously discuss poems, automatic writing and painting and then put things in their magazines like a man throwing a rock at a priest. I guess it was quite punk at the time.

Magritte's paintings always make me laugh. I don't care if other people say they're not funny. I find it ridiculous when you walk around a gallery and people are just looking at something obviously funny and stroking their chins. A Magritte painting such as the reverse mermaid [Collective Invention, 1934] is like a stand-up joke. Comedians do those reverse jokes all the time. When I was quite young, I did a painting of a cat phoning the fire brigade and an old lady stuck up a tree.

It's the juxtaposition in the paintings that is also very stimulating. I think it was Terry Jones who said something about two disparate ideas coming together and creating a star. And that's what it's all about for me. In The Mighty Boosh, we have a character called Old Gregg who is a merman but he's also a bit like [musician] Rick James. Those two things shouldn't ever go together. But when you get it right it's perfect.

Some of my own paintings are definitely influenced by Magritte. The stillness and the weirdness of Bryan Ferry with a Kite, in which Bryan Ferry has got a kite for a head, that's one of them. But he was also one of mine and Julian Barratt's joint favourites and that's apparent in the Boosh. For ages, we even wanted to have a pipe as an actual character who floated around and talked. But it was too difficult. You can see from what Julian wears that he likes the whole Magritte aesthetic – the bowler hats, the trench coats and the weird city-gent-gone-wrong look. Together, lookswise, we're like Dalí and Magritte. Dalí was more my type: flamboyant, a mad freak.

My new show for E4 has even more references to art. It's set in a place that's supposed to be my house, I look like a Bollywood Elvis and my cleaner is a robotic Andy Warhol. At one point, Warhol borrows a rucksack from Magritte to go on holiday with Jackson Pollock and Keith Haring and when he turns around a train comes out of the rucksack, like the train coming out of the fireplace in Time Transfixed [1938].I say to Warhol: "I bet that gets a bit annoying", and he responds, in his robotic voice: "No, you can get loads in there."

Magritte's paintings are insane, but they're often really good one-liners so they're a great source for a surreal comedy show.


When Magritte was 13, his mother committed suicide and, apparently, when the police retrieved her body from the river Sambre, Magritte was there and he saw how her face was covered by her dress. My own art and the research I do around it is all about neuroscience, how brains function, how memory functions, so this episode in Magritte's life and the way it subsequently influenced his art really intrigues me. If you look at The Lovers [1928], where two people have clothes over their face, I think that work specifically draws on that episode with his mother. But more generally, his work explores memory, his funny perception of reality and for me that all comes from his memory of that event. In Le Blanc-Seing [1965], for example, which features a woman on a horse in a wood, there are almost two paintings. The way his paintings constantly shift between what is real, something he can see or saw, and something he really wants to see is what draws me into his work.


One of the great things about Magritte's work, especially The Treachery of Images (This Is Not a Pipe) [1921] is it dismantles the idea of pictures themselves. It makes the audience consider what they're looking at and take a step back. You can see that Magritte painted to experiment with his own thinking. His work is a thinking through pictures. I probably first came across the work when I was on my art foundation course and I remember my sense of relief to find that his work was immediately gettable. Some people today don't identify with the themes he's exploring or perhaps can't see past the cliché. But the way he suggestively starts to make the audience question how they see things is something that I try to include in my own art.

There are two works of Magritte's which I've more or less directly appropriated in my works Oscar and Cripple. They are The Ellipsis [1948] and The Cripple [1948], from his vache period, when he started painting more loosely, almost in a semi-expressionistic style. This period was a disaster for Magritte: the critics panned the work and the collectors ran away. But I love that he was fed up with being expected to be a certain kind of artist and was challenging his signature style. This new style almost allowed the audience in slightly closer, to get more of an insight into Magritte himself. I made two sculptures, three dimensional self-portraits, that were then reconfigured to look like these two paintings by Magritte. I was dealing with the idea of my own personal representation, my own ideas of authorship.

I also like the happy oddness, the sense of the uncanny in Magritte's work. In a way, there's a non-threatening but uncomfortable sensation. In an era before Photoshop, he slammed together things from different worlds and played with scale. If I were to draw parallels between his work and mine it would be that we combine disparate ideas or use this sense of the uncanny to make proposed alternatives. A work of mine like the bronze binbag sculpture is a good example – it seems straightforward, it's a shiny binbag, but then it starts to make you ask questions. It's a painted bronze sculpture, so there's this sense of permanence when actually a black plastic bag is probably a key symbol of impermanence.


A Magritte work that I always return to is The Treachery of Images, because we have it at the LA County Museum. It's a kind of touchstone of his. He's affirming the slipperiness, or as he calls it the treachery, of images, of language – that a word and an object have no necessary connection other than that we collectively assigned that word and that object to go together. I really appreciate his word play.

He also does a lot of the things I try to do with my work, making life a little difficult or a little challenging for the viewer who would like things to be comfortable. I think the reason Magritte has been so influential on popular culture is because he deals with images that we know – a person or a house or a street or a horse.

The images aren't misshapen or distorted – he just puts them together in combinations that we don't usually think about. And in terms of advertising, Magritte and Dalí probably have been the most influential artists, so much that we don't even see it anymore. Take, for example, CBS TV's logo, the eye. I believe that comes directly from him [from the work The False Mirror, 1928]. He's everywhere.

EDWARD HALL Theatre director

In the theatre you try and create a sense of mystery. You're raising questions, putting ordinary situations in front of people and shining new light on them. Magritte does that in his paintings, using objects that you know really well. When I directed Twelfth Night, there was a moment in my production where Viola, disguised as a boy, looks in the mirror and sees herself for the first time as a man. That's always made me think of The False Mirror. Both of those things are about seeing something you've never seen before in a reflection of something familiar.

I had a picture of The Human Condition [1933] on my wall when I was a teenager which I'd cut out of a magazine because it looked interesting. My favourite now is The Treachery of Images. That's about not boiling things down to their lowest common denominator or about looking beyond what you think something is. The pipe expresses that idea in its simplest form. Of course it's not a pipe! Try and smoke it!

When you're working on a play, you're constantly trying not to make assumptions. As soon as you make assumptions, you stop investigating – what a story might mean, what the possibilities are within a scene. Go back to Greek drama, where the principle is that the opposite is always true, that raises as many questions as it answers. Shakespeare also challenges your expectations of people's behaviour in all sorts of ways. That's why his plays are constantly intriguing to watch. And in essence that's what Magritte does, too.


When I first became interested in art, at the age of 13 or 14, I was drawn to the otherness of art, the peculiarity and anarchy of it. For me, Magritte really represented that. Then, when I went to art school in the late 80s, I realised that his paintings were not very good, technically speaking. His work seemed a bit kitsch. But later I became interested in them again, as a vehicle for ideas. I've always loved the simplicity of his work and I think it becomes more profound the more you consider it.

In Magritte's oeuvre there are quite a few odd paintings that are jarring. One of my favourites is Young Girl Eating a Bird, an image of a girl eating a bird in front of a tree full of exotic-looking birds. As soon as I saw it, I thought, that's a really strange, perverse picture, whereas a lot of the others seem quite sanitised.

Growing up in provincial England, I lived a long way from London so my introduction to contemporary art was through Thames and Hudson books. Magritte is illustrative in style, so you can get it without necessarily having to see the physical object of the painting, because you're still invited to think about the idea.

It's hard to trace an artist's influence, but I think Magritte is a important image maker, a conceptual painter. He's more like Duchamp or Picabia. For me, he is the quintessential surrealist.

Additional research by Gemma Kappala-Ramsamy

René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle is at Tate Liverpool from Friday until 16 October © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 10 2011

René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle – exhibition

René Magritte presented himself as the 'ordinary man in the bowler hat, suit and tie' who happened to paint extraordinary pictures. James Hall considers how his work influenced later generations

René Magritte has inspired more book covers than any other visual artist. The first Magritte cover adorned Mary Potter's Useful Mathematics Workbook, published in Boston in 1939. The designer used a detail of Mental Arithmetic (1931; destroyed), in which a village of conventional houses with tiled roofs has been colonised by a cluster of gigantic white spheres, hemispheres and cuboids.

This eerie toytown image deftly prophesies what was about to happen in architecture – the colossal "pure forms" of Le Corbusier's modernism usurping more complex and cosy traditional forms. At the same time, the juxtaposition panders to the human need to find patterns and geometry in nature. We notice that the rising sun is also hemispherical, and that the pitched roofs of the houses are triangular: the similarities between the pure white forms and the rural idyll they find themselves in are as striking as the differences. Indeed, could not the sun simply be another hemisphere placed on the horizon? Here lateral thinking and seeing can render what initially seems alien to be archetypal and even natural; and it can in turn make the houses and trees seem cramped, gloomy and unhomely. Yet in Magritteville, the friction between forms never falters, never settles into a reassuring pattern. His sites – with their pathological neatness, cleanness, staticness – cannot be fully stabilised or surveyed. Mental Arithmetic defies conventional computation: here 1 + 1 = 2 and infinity.

A recent exhibition in Boston of Magritte-inspired book covers had 60 works of fiction and non-fiction, and could have featured many others (the curator Karl Baden now owns about 100). Examples include Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch (the woman-as-nightdress, hanging from a rail); Michel Foucault's meditation on the picture of a pipe inscribed "This Is Not a Pipe"; Georges Simenon's Maigret's Pipe (a bowler-hatted man seen from the back); and Patrick Süskind's The Pigeon (a bowler-hatted man seen from the back with a pigeon perching on his hat). What appeals to publishers and readers is the epigrammatic spareness of Magritte's work, together with an almost heraldic clarity. You register the naively limpid image/word instantly, then do a double-take and are insidiously hooked – intellectually, if not emotionally. No less important is the fact that book titles and author names can be deposited in one of the many voids that punctuate his pictures. He leaves blank and blandly patterned zones into which all manner of mental furniture can be scattered.

René Magritte (1898-1967) was brought up in Hainault, Belgium's coal-mining region, the eldest son of a prosperous businessman (edible oils, stock cubes). He soon showed talent as an artist, which his father encouraged, and went to art school in Brussels in 1915. His mother was a depressive, with suicidal tendencies, and when René was 13 she drowned herself in the river at the back of their house. Magritte only ever spoke about her death to one close friend, years later. He said that when the body was dragged from the polluted waters several days later her face was covered by her nightdress. It was not known whether she had hidden her eyes with it before jumping in, or whether the river had "veiled her thus". The only feeling Magritte remembered was "intense pride at the thought of being the pitiable centre of attention in a drama".

The "drama" involving the nightdress sounds too good to be true, like a carefully contrived primal scene, ripe for Freudian analysis. It is surely a period piece, borrowed from a symbolist novel or painting, invented or imagined by Magritte to lend his mother romance and gravitas – and to endow himself with superhuman sang froid.

Veiled figures were a symbolist leitmotif. The Italian sculptor Medardo Rosso's Impression on the Boulevard: Woman with a Veil (1893) is the obvious example, yet all of Rosso's bust-length figures, mostly women and children, seem equally veiled. Their hiddenness adds to the sense of mystery, melancholy and melodrama. Comparable figures, now facing away from the viewer, and blank mannikin heads, are found in the work of Rosso's younger Italian contemporary Giorgio de Chirico, the discovery of whose paintings in the 1920s came as a revelation to Magritte, and set him on the path he was to follow for the best part of his career. Magritte was to make the suspiciously hidden head – obscured, turned, featureless, missing, beheaded, behatted – his own.

In the early 1920s, Magritte had been working his way steadily through cubism and futurism, subsidising himself by doing commercial art – something he would have to do until after the second world war, when he secured a New York dealer (examples of his commercial work will be included in the new Tate Liverpool show). In the mid-1920s, the recently formed French surrealists, and the German dadaists Max Ernst and George Grosz, were hailing De Chirico as a founding father, and Magritte was bowled over by a reproduction of De Chirico's Love Song in an art magazine. De Chirico showed Magritte how you could make resonant paintings by "collaging" together disparate still-life objects painted in a deadpan, hyper-real style, with distorted scale and spatial logic. Magritte said of the Italian leader of the Scuola Metafisica: "It was a new vision through which the spectator might recognise his own isolation and hear the silence of the world".

But whereas De Chirico situated his objects within plunging architectural perspectives inspired by early renaissance painting, Magritte's compositions tend to spread out laterally, as if belonging to an illustrated textbook or display cabinet. Abetting this lateral extension is his penchant for dividing pictures into stark, shifting sequences of square and rectangular compartments, akin to advertising hoardings or stage flats. It is a modernist reworking of the medieval polyptych format, where each saint or protagonist is isolated in its own framed panel. Magritte liked the format because of the feeling of potentially endless shuffling and unfolding.

Magritte's work is, in part, a joke at the expense of the classifying, bureaucratic mind. His drily preposterous pedantry makes one think of Flaubert's Bouvard and Pécuchet (1881), in which the eponymous copy-clerks seek to become experts in every conceivable subject solely by reading books, rather than consulting people with experience. The hapless autodidacts try to bottle preserves, plant trees, look after farm animals, practise medicine; they try to learn how to write a novel and how to have imagination. All their experiments end in disaster, and their home becomes a museum, choked with specimens. Eventually they give up and go back to being copy-clerks. Magritte's paintings look as though they might have been made by a well-meaning but over-zealous autodidact – and it's a consummate irony that they end up on the covers of so many self-help books.

Magritte moved to Paris in 1927 with his wife and frequent model Georgette and, although he gained the respect and admiration of André Breton and the surrealists, he never became part of the inner circle. It was a matter partly of geography – he could only afford to rent a flat in the suburbs – and partly of style. At this stage in its evolution, surrealism was dominated by semi-abstract "automatic" drawing, as epitomised by the work of André Masson and Joan Miró: beauty, as Breton said, was convulsive. It wasn't until the 1930s, with the ascendancy of surrealist sculpture and photography, and of Salvador Dalí, that Magritte's work fitted the bill. By that stage, however, he had already returned to Brussels, due to both the fallout of the 1929 Wall Street crash and a row with Breton over a crucifix worn by Georgette to a party. The violently atheistical Breton insisted she remove it, but Magritte sided with his wife.

Many of Magritte's most famous works were painted during his Paris stay. The False Mirror – a close-up of a left eye, with a cloudy sky where the iris should be – is both visionary and claustrophobic, for while the flying-saucer eye seems magically enlarged, the sky seems circumscribed (this later became the logo for CBS television). The Titanic Days (1928) is the most intelligently shocking of his images. A naked woman of heroic scale struggles with a clothed man who assails her from her left. But the man's figure is neatly cut off at the contour of the woman's body, so only the superimposed part of the man is depicted. What makes it so disturbing is the idea that he is an indissoluble, bespoke part of herself, an essential item both of her own wardrobe and her anatomy – a parasitical human corset. We can't tell whether this is simply a rape scene, or an internecine struggle between conjoined forces. They are both equal parts of a diptych folding in on itself. Picasso later tried a similar trick when he made his mesmerising image of his young mistress, The Dream (1932), with the left side of her sleeping head formed from a tumescent lilac penis.

Partly inspired by Miró (whose exhibition at Tate Modern runs concurrently) and by dadaism, Magritte started to incorporate words into his pictures, and the 40-odd word pictures he made in Paris constituted about a quarter of his output there. Foucault, appreciating the painstaking appearance of Magritte's joined-up handwriting, said it was written in "a script from the convent". The Key of Dreams (1930), made in several versions, is a classic example. A sequence of images, as if from a child's school book, each one isolated in a square frame, is spectacularly "mis-labelled" – so beneath a picture of a high-heeled shoe we read "the moon", beneath a jug "the bird" and so on.

A version of The Key of Dreams appeared on the front cover of John Berger's Ways of Seeing (1972). According to Berger, it demonstrates that there is an "always present gap between words and seeing". This is the message that countless conceptual artists have taken from Magritte's work. Yet it is far from clear this is what Magritte meant. The main inference we can draw is that dreams are meaningless, a random sequence of unfettered images and words to which there is no key. We can interpret This Is Not a Pipe in a similar way, for pipe tobacco is an addictive, perception-altering drug that inspires reverie. That is very much how the pipe is treated in The Philosopher's Lamp (1936), a grotesque self-portrait in which Magritte's nose is distended like an elephant's trunk and flops down into the bowl of the pipe he is smoking, as if to suggest the depths of his own addiction. He looks at us sidelong, sadly, well aware how pathetic and impotent he looks. A worm-like candle burns limply on a console table before him. Unlike the surrealists, Magritte is a reluctant dreamer. He wants to stay wide awake and in control. He wants reality and reason to prevail, and for affinities to be found between objects: he was an admirer of Goethe's novel Elective Affinities. A yearning for simple truths lies at the heart of his prosaic, deliberate painting style. The creative tension in his work stems from his chronic inability to keep a lid on himself and the world.

There is indeed something pathetic about Magritte's later work and career: from the 1930s an increasing part of his production was making copies of his most popular works, as well as forgeries of artists such as Picasso and Ernst, and portraits. When the Germans invaded Belgium in 1940, he decided that people needed cheering up and so, until 1947, he painted lurid soft-porn pastiches of late Renoir. In 1948, he tried his hand at a comic-strip fauvism – his "vache" (cow) paintings – before returning to making variations on his standard themes. He became famous for the first time in the late 1950s, when his classic work chimed with pop art, and later, with conceptual art. It was then that he marketed himself to the wider world as the "ordinary man in the bowler hat, suit and tie" who just happened to paint extraordinary pictures. At his death in 1967, this pose (sans bowler hat) was taken up with a vengeance by Gilbert & George. What the response to his laconic art will be these days, when beauty is both convulsive and garrulous (Tracey Emin), remains to be seen.

René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle is at Tate Liverpool from 24 June until 16 October 2011. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 17 2011

Ian McKellen challenges Tate over Lowry 'exclusion'

Actor demands London galleries sell 23 works by Manchester painter rather than continue to store them

The Tate has been challenged to put its collection of paintings by LS Lowry up for sale if it intends to continue to exclude them from its London galleries.

The actor Sir Ian McKellen threw down the challenge in a joint attack by leading figures from the art world which questioned whether the "matchstick men painter" has been sidelined as too northern and provincial.

Although many artists from the north of England enjoy metropolitan critical acclaim, including David Hockney and Damien Hirst, none assert the character of northern people and landscape with Lowry's dogged persistence.

"Over the years, silly lies have been thrown around that he was only a Sunday painter, an amateur, untrained and naive," said McKellen, who narrates a highly critical television programme about Lowry's "exclusion" to be screened by ITV1 on Easter Day. The programme is called Perspectives: Looking for Lowry.

"His popularity needs no official endorsement from the Tate, but it is a shame verging on the iniquitous that foreign visitors to London shouldn't have access to the painter English people like more than most others."

The film sees others line up to condemn the fact that the Tate has shown only one of its 23 Lowrys – Industrial Landscape, painted in 1955 and owned by the gallery for 50 years – and then only briefly.

Noel Gallagher, of the Manchester band Oasis, said: "They're not considered Tateworthy. Or is it just because he is a northerner?"

The controversy reached a crunch point when the Tate was refused permission to copy Industrial Landscape to form part of a temporary mural on the work of landscape artists. Lowry's estate, which has donated much of his unsold work to the Lowry centre at Salford Quays, has made no secret of its irritation at the continued storage of his work.

The Tate denied any deprecation of "northern-ness" in Lowry's work, pointing to its record of establishing Tate Liverpool and supporting new Hepworth Wakefield gallery, which opens next month. Henry Moore, the Yorkshire sculptor and contemporary of Barbara Hepworth, has also been much feted by the gallery, whose founder Sir Henry Tate, the sugar mogul, was one of Lowry's fellow-Lancastrians.

The Tate said it planned to give Lowry space when its galleries are extended in 2013, but Tate Britain's head of displays, Chris Stephens, said in the television programme: "What makes Lowry so popular is the same thing which stops him being the subject of serious critical attention. What attracts so many is a sort of sentimentality about him. He's a victim of his own fan base."

McKellen said: "If the Tate feels no responsibility to give the art-viewing public their favourite painters to view, perhaps they could let their stash go elsewhere. They could pass them on to a gallery like the Lowry, which shares its visitors' tastes. Or perhaps a touring retrospective, with a twist – the exhibits would be for sale." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 03 2011

Damien Hirst to head Tate Modern's Olympic programme

The controversial artist gets his first UK retrospective in summer 2012, and Tino Sehgal offers performance art in the Turbine Hall

The most famous, controversial – and, some would say, overexposed – British artist never to have had a UK retrospective will dominate the Tate's programme during the 2012 Olympics.

Damien Hirst will be the subject of a major survey next summer at Tate Modern. It is bound to be a major draw for visitors attending the London games.

The exhibition will show Hirst's earliest spot, spin and butterfly paintings as well as his shark in formaldehyde, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991).

Large works, such as A Thousand Years – a vitrine containing a rotting cow's head, flies and an electric fly-killer – will also be shown.

It will give visitors the opportunity, according to Tate curator Ann Gallagher, "to step back from the noise surrounding Hirst, look back to 1988 [the year he sprang on to the scene with his now famous exhibition Freeze] and follow his career through".

In a first for any art exhibition, a room will be devoted to an auction, the sale that the artist held of his own work at Sotheby's. Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, as he named the event, made £111m in September 2008, just as, across the Atlantic, Lehman Brothers bank was collapsing.

While a Briton occupies the major exhibition spaces, it is a London-born, German-raised artist, Tino Sehgal, who will make Tate Modern's 13th Turbine Hall installation. It will open in summer 2012 to coincide with the Olympics rather than during October, its customary slot.

Whereas many works in the Turbine Hall have been on a vast scale, Sehgal's work – the nature of which has not been announced – is likely to be intimate performance art involving personal interaction between visitors and actors. A previous work featured singing museum attendants; another, two performers enacting The Kiss by Rodin.

Tate Modern will host another likely blockbuster during the games, a show devoted to Edvard Munch, drawing on recent research to present him as an emphatically modernist artist influenced by developments in technology, such as photography and cinema.

However, the £215m extension to Tate Modern, long promised in time for the Olympics, will be only partly complete, Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, said. Fundraising efforts have been slowed by the economic crisis, but, he said: "We are completely confident that we will raise the full £215m required."

Tate Britain will also be pulling out all the stops for the Games. During the Olympics a major exhibition, Picasso and Britain, will examine the influence the artist had on British painters and sculptors. Specific Picassos will be paired with works by artists such as Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Francis Bacon. It will also show how the 1960 Picasso exhibition at the Tate Gallery profoundly influenced the work of the young David Hockney.

The museum will also host a major Pre-Raphaelite exhibition, focusing on the movement's social radicalism and giving new emphasis to the female artists associated with the Brotherhood.

Outside London, Tate Liverpool will host Turner Monet Twombly, examining the late periods of "three of the most significant artists of the past two centuries", according to director Christoph Grunenberg. Mature works by Turner and Monet will be juxtaposed with recent paintings and sculpture by the great American artist Cy Twombly; each has a "a looseness and intensity that comes from the confidence of age", said Grunenberg.

At St Ives, the highlights will be a major exhibition of work by the long-established US painter Alex Katz, and a show devoted to one of Britain's most intriguing young artists, Cornish-born Simon Fujiwara. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 19 2010

A life of extremes

For Picasso, painting was a weapon - to be wielded on the side of communism. Adrian Searle revels in Tate Liverpool's killer new show about the man and his politics

Picasso's still lifes are less nature morte than life in extremis. He painted skulls and more skulls. His trussed roosters look more like people struggling on a torture table than lunch in the offing. Asked why he painted so many pictures of food, of pots and cutlery jangling in the drawer, of lamplight and gloom during the German occupation of Paris, Picasso declared: "A casserole can also scream! Everything can!" He was also hungry, as was most of Europe. But he refused extra fuel and food coupons, refused to collaborate.

The room of still lifes at Tate Liverpool's new exhibition is a killer arrangement of paintings and a small number of sculptures. An owl perched on a chair-back stares at us like an atavistic, simian head, in a painting as bare as an empty larder. A great bronze skull is a cratered cannonball, a damaged weight. One remembers that Picasso's last self-portrait, a drawing from 1973, the year of his death, is more skull than living head.

"A dead man in Spain is more alive than a dead man anywhere in the world," wrote the poet Lorca, who was murdered by Franco's henchmen, and whose bones are yet to be found and given a proper burial. The debate about the disinterment of the mass graves of the missing dead from the Spanish civil war is a major issue in Spain today – more than at any time since Franco's death in 1975. Picasso spent almost half his life in exile in France after the civil war, during which time the Republic made him director in absentia of the Prado museum. He refused to return to Spain while Franco was alive. And, because he was a member of the French Communist party, he was never allowed to visit America.

But despite Paris's decline during the 1950s and New York's ascendance as the centre of the art world, Picasso never much cared that he couldn't go there. Along with many other French intellectuals and artists, Picasso joined the Communist party in 1944 and remained a member for life. He channelled money into the party and into communist newspapers. He gave a million francs to striking miners. He made works, especially drawings, for communist-inspired peace conferences and innumerable other causes. He was, surprisingly – especially for a Spaniard of his generation – an anti-racist.

Picasso's politics were never in doubt, though this side of him is often pushed aside for a view of the artist as a protean genius and priapic monster. He was a man of his time, shaped by his upbringing, ambition and talent (it possessed him as much as he possessed it), as well as by the events he lived through. Guernica, commemorating the destruction of the ancient capital of the Basque homeland in 1937 by German and Italian bombers, and painted the same year, remains Picasso's best-known declaration of revulsion to fascism; but themes of war and suffering were a constant in his work. Guernica's blacks, whites and greys, as stark as newsreel footage and front-page news, were continued in works such as the less-than-successful 1951 Massacre in Korea, or the great Charnel House, now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The current exhibition opens with Charnel House, which would alone be worth a visit to Liverpool; but Picasso's small still lifes of the 1940s, 50s and 60s carry a similar symbolic weight, even if their meaning is more furtively delivered. They are filled with disquiet.

"Painting is not made to decorate houses," the artist wrote in 1943. "It is an instrument of offensive and defensive war against the enemy." Picasso toiled over Charnel House slowly, between 1944 and 1945, despite the fact that the painting appears almost cursory and unfinished. It is a deceptively complex and rich painting, with an amazing tension between the subject and the language used to depict it – the slaughtered family heaped dead under a kitchen table, their bodies intertwined. The more you stare at it, the more you get entwined, too. The painting was initially inspired by documentary footage showing the assassination of a family during the civil war; the ghost of Goya's Disasters of War hovers in its mangled stillness. This is nature morte as aftermath. An arm reaches upward, stiffened in death, the hand bloated and seamed like a baseball mitt, clutching at nothing.

As well as slaughters and still lifes, the exhibition is filled with posters, scarves, copies of telegrams from Fidel Castro and commendations from the Russian politburo. Curator Lynda Morris has spent years in the archives, gathering material. There are photographs of Picasso listening intently to speeches at a peace conference in Poland; Picasso with Soviet officials; Picasso staring at a photograph of Stalin.

All this is fascinating stuff, and details Picasso's commitment and generosity. He handed over suitcases of cash. He protested the death by electric chair of the Rosenbergs, executed for handing over US atomic bomb secrets to the Russians. And he made his only trip to the UK to attend a peace conference in Sheffield in 1950; upon arrival at Victoria station, he was detained by immigration officials for 12 hours.

But it is the art itself that really counts (though with Picasso, everything counts). He threw nothing away, and even the most minor drawing or note takes on a talismanic significance, as it did even when he was alive. Asked by the owner of a small bistro in the 1950s whether he would be so kind as to do a little drawing on a napkin as a souvenir, Picasso replied that he only wanted to pay his bill, not buy the restaurant. And although he was the world's most famous communist artist, and received the Order of Lenin, he refused to toe the party line and reinvent himself as a socialist realist. He remained a decadent formalist, as far as Soviet critics were concerned.

A horse with enormous balls

It is impossible, too, to say exactly how political some of Picasso's art was. Perhaps everything was, at some level – although I do find some of the claims made about his later work as tantalising as they are tendentious. The idea that Picasso's variations on Velázquez's Las Meninas might contain veiled references to Franco, and to Franco's grooming of Prince Juan Carlos in order to reinstate the monarchy, is unconvincing. (As it tuned out, the Spanish monarch later declared that he wanted to be king of a republic, and helped pull Spain back from a coup d'etat in 1979.) Were Picasso's variations on Delacroix's The Women of Algiers a reference to the Algerian war of independence? What they seem to be is a celebration of a cloistered, civilised bath-house, with their tiles and hookahs and disporting female flesh. The 1960s Rape of the Sabine Women, inspired by Poussin and David, may well have been a comment on American cold-war aggression and interventionism, particularly towards Hispanic America. A horse with enormous balls and grinning head stamps on a woman; a human foot kicks at a woman thrown from her bicycle. Picasso didn't need to modernise these paintings, adding rubber batons, riot shields or clouds of tear gas.

Picasso: Peace and Freedom covers its subject fitfully, and is dependent on what loans were available. Later in the show, we come to quieter images: Manet's Déjeuner sur l'Herbe redone cartoonishly, and very late paintings of musketeers, the artist imagining himself morphing into Frans Hals, and a horny old whiskered Rembrandt. These come as something of an aside. Asked about his political views in 1968, the artist remarked that if he wanted to respond to such questions he would change his profession and become a politician. "But this, of course, is impossible," he said. Art exists in the social world, and is political whether we want it to be or not. Picasso took the bull by the horns. His art stands up for his own individual creative freedom, but it's one that didn't give him much peace. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 24 2010

Britons rediscover age of austerity

Museums, galleries and heritage sites report surge in visitor numbers as recession bites hard on family days out

Belt-tightening Britons have remembered the best things in life are often free, meaning that business is still booming for museums, galleries and heritage sites, research published today reveals.

Visitor numbers rose by more than 10% as the recession-induced 'staycationing' and more tourists from the eurozone lifted spirits in one bright corner of the UK's depressed economy.

Increasing numbers are joining organisations such as the National Trust and English Heritage, attracted by the single annual outlay on membership that provides multiple day trips at fast-reducing cost.

The figures were published by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva), whose 42 members cover 1,600 tourist sites visited by about 100m people, although they exclude some big names such as the London Eye, Madame Tussauds and Alton Towers.

Attractions are optimistic about their immediate future, with four in five expecting to maintain or increase numbers in 2010 and more than half believing revenues, including shop and restaurant sales, will also rise.

The median rise in visitor numbers during 2009 was nearly 11%, although organisers advised caution given that the figures include repeat visits.

Also the popularity or otherwise of temporary exhibitions at museums and galleries, anniversaries such as that of Darwin's birth and new developments such as the Elizabethan garden at Kenilworth Castle, can cause bigger than normal fluctuations.

The most popular UK attraction, the British Museum, saw a 6% fall in attendances to 5.57m, but three incredibly successful exhibitions, the First Emperor [of China], Hadrian, and American prints and drawings, drew large numbers in 2008.

In Liverpool, attractions such as Tate and the Walker art gallery inevitably saw big falls on 2008, its European city of culture year, although other contemporaneous but separate developments such as its conference, entertainment and shopping improvements, have meant other indicators such as hotel bookings have fallen by far less.

Ministers will be hoping the contest for UK city of culture in 2013, the inaugural winner of which will be named this summer, will bring similar long-lasting benefits.

The National Trust, which has 3.8 million members, said it had recorded 16.7m visits to its properties in the 10 months between April 2009 and last month – a 17% rise on last year.

English Heritage said 2009 visits were up from 4.8m to 5.4m – another 17% rise.

However, Alva warned there should more incentives for tourists to visit and stay in Britain, including reductions in VAT on admission tickets and accommodation.

VAT on hotel prices was more than twice the 8% common to most of Europe, while the government grant to the tourist agency VisitBritain would have fallen in real terms by 50% between 1997 and 2011, said director Robin Broke.

"As the political parties prepare for the general election, they can consider how best to help the industry maximise the revenue it can generate and the additional jobs it can create."

Going up

Royal Horticultural Society, Wisley 964,212 - up 18%

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire 537,120 - up 44%

Calke Abbey, Derbyshire, (NT), 239, 748 - up 92%

Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire (EH) 142,723 - up 58%

Down House, Charles Darwin's home, Kent (EH) 81,863 - up 198%

Going down

Tate Britain, London 1,501,837 - down 7%

Eden Project, Cornwall, 1,028,264 - down 6%

National Media Museum, Bradford, 613,923 - down 18%

Tate Liverpool 539,577 - down 50%

Kensington Palace, London 226,293 - down 16% © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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