This Sunday I had a very delightful trip up north to Liverpool to visit Tate Liverpool and Bluecoat Gallery. It was quite unusual to see such a variety of shows all in one day: John Piper, Surrealism in Egypt, Roy Lichtenstein in Tate and In the Peaceful Dome and At the Heart of Liverpool Culture in Bluecoat Gallery. I was very interested in the Surrealism exhibition first and foremost because this is one of my favourite art movements, but I didn’t expect to be so positively surprised by other shows as well. Here are the exhibition reviews.
In the Peaceful Dome
13.10.2017 – 25.03.2018, Bluecoat Gallery
First stop was Bluecoat Gallery, with an exhibition which concludes Bluecoat’s 300th anniversary. Instead of having a purely retrospective show, Bryan Biggs, Bluecoat Artistic Director curated an exhibition where historical and contemporary art was in skilful conversation with each other. There is so much to the show, and I believe that it requires one more in-depth visit, but there were a couple of artworks and installations which impressed me a lot.
Whenever I visit an exhibition, I always look for something familiar, something I can make connections. And then I am after some new information, something that would motivate me to read and research a bit more.
It was great to see Birmingham based artist, Joanne Masding in this show in Gallery Four upstairs. Especially I enjoyed her New Rehang (Series 1) where she takes the images of the ancient artefacts out of their current context of the catalogue and places different pages with different eras next to each other. New Rehang (Series 3) uses similar images, but as holographic images on plaster.
Several artworks by Jo Stockham made a great impression on me: Empire Mode (1989), Prediction (1990) and series of nine monoprints. I had the pleasure to hear her talk during IMPACT 8 in Dundee (2013). Stockham is the Head of Printmaking Program at the Royal College of Art, and she often uses archive sources and maps in her artworks. Empire Mode was especially striking as a full-size axe in the shape of England (and Wales) as well as Prediction, which depicted a glass sphere with two miniature figures carrying a third one on a stretcher and an empty frame for a globe. These were made in 1989 and 1990, but are incredibly relevant to the current political situation as well.
A new surprise for me was Red Woman, Black Man (1932) by Roderick Bisson (1920 – 1987). Surprisingly, there is not much information available about Bisson online. Only that he was Liverpool artist, his artwork, albeit limited number were sold in auctions and that he was a pioneer of British surrealism. But it was interesting to follow up this with the discovery that British Surrealism didn’t flourish just in London, but also in Birmingham between 1930s and 1950s.
Bluecoat Gallery has exhibited an impressive selection of artworks over the years and Bryan Biggs has presented exciting parallels which are open to further discussions and conversations.
Bluecoat: at the Heart of Liverpool Culture
21.04.2017 – 25.03.2018, Bluecoat Gallery
According to the exhibition guide initially, the Bluecoat Gallery was a home for a charity school. It occupied the building since 1717 and this English Baroque style architecture became the UK’s first arts centre with the establishment of Bluecoat Society of Arts in 1927. The exhibition documents the development of the physical building which is the Bluecoat Gallery. It was great to follow the timeline and changes which this remarkable building went through.
17.11.2017 – 18.03.2018, Tate Liverpool
John Piper (1903 – 1992) was an English painter, printmaker and designer of stained-glass windows. He depicted a lot of landscapes in his early career and during WWII, he was the official war artists. He documented bomb-damaged churches and landmarks. But in the later life, he is known for his abstracts.
My first encounter with Piper’s work was at the Biddle & Webb Auctioneers in January 2015, when his screenprint Petit Palais: Pink and Yellow was sold for £1,000. This print is very impressive in its simplicity. A facade divided into four parts, with alternating positives and negatives. And then, in April 2015, an impressive example of an occasional table with his design sold at Biddle & Webb for £1,700. After that, I started seeing a lot of his prints circulating in the art market.
But it was a great surprise for me to realise that he is the author of the Baptistry window at Coventry Cathedral. Retrospective exhibitions are always fascinating as they show the path and development of the artist’s career. These are great to understand why something was created in a certain way. I am very fond of constructivism. Therefore I found Piper’s 30s artworks particularly interesting. The depiction of ruins is not my favourite visual, but Piper managed to present empty architectural elements in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. The Passage to the Control-room at South West Regional Headquarters, Bristol is one of those works. Although it is not a ruin as such, the perspective and arrows on the ground turn mundane architecture into the interestingly hidden passageway.
Surrealism in Egypt: Art et Liberte 1938 – 1948
17.11.2017 – 18.03.2018, Tate Liverpool
This exhibition most surprising to me and it had quite a similar ‘wow’ effect, as to find out about a separate surrealism movement in Birmingham. First of all, I had no idea that there was such a movement in Egypt and secondly, that such exciting and diverse artwork was created during that time. Perhaps there is partly a Europe-central education system to blame, and I am wondering why we don’t talk more about art in Egypt. After all, there is much more to it than just Ancient culture and pyramids. Or probably, the reason is just my ignorance.
The exhibition showed a variety of impressive artworks which all addressed specific aspects of political issues at that time. Either it was a response to the rising fascism, British military occupation or WWII. Compared to the surrealism in France it was interesting to observe the depiction of women in the artworks by Egyptian surrealists especially as they stepped back from the pure objectification.
Two artists who impressed me the most were Ramses Younane and Mayo.
Artist Rooms: Roy Lichtenstein in Focus
22.09.2017 – 17.06.2018, Tate Liverpool
After all the surrealism, abstract, politically loaded and historical art, it was a relief to see straightforward, entertaining, visually pleasing large prints with vibrant colours. Roy Lichtenstein has a very distinctive visual pattern which usually includes a blond woman and word or an expression in a speech bubble.