Context, Exhibitions


Last week I visited Tate Liverpool.  Having had no intention of going to Liverpool until offered a free ride, I was excited when mum casually (casually…pfft) mentioned that I could perhaps visit the Tate to see the Turner, Monet, Twombly exhibition to pass the time.  My ears pricked up!  Monet?  Twombly?  Yes please!

So I rocked up to the Tate all excited, only to discover that there would be a £13 charge for entry.  Having been a skint student for so long, I generally have bypassed exhibitions with a hefty charge.  Feeling no different now, I was disappointed.  I had a snoop around the DLA Piper Series exhibition instead; It was good, of course, but it was no great shakes.  I find the exhibition space at Tate Liverpool generally a but stuffy – too many bright colours and not enough light.  The white-wall purist inside me finds it all a bit overbearing, and not in a good way.  I was a bit miffed at the whole affair.  Coffee was needed.

Here I was in Liverpool (an impressive city, yet not one of my favourites), with two of my favourite artists being paraded infront of my face, and all I felt able to do was press my nose against the glass in longing frustration.  Thirteen pounds?!  Get out of it.  So I went for a coffee, and resolved to write a long political blog post about how outrageous it is for these huge institutions to charge such extortionate amounts for our visual gratification.  I even planned it out, considering several different viewpoints, and the fact that I hope to own a gallery (DCA please.) one day.

And then, appeased a little by my caffeine fix, I thought fuck it.  I’ve had a distinctly mediocre summer, I deserve my visual gratification.  So I rocked back up to Tate, blagged my way in as a student (yes! only £9.  Boom!), and once in I couldn’t believe that I even contemplated walking away.


A conversation between Turner/Monet/Twomblys’ later paintings, the exhibit examines how themes can prevail in art regardless of time; love, loss, temporality, lust, death, peace.  All are present here.  Well organised into seven categories, the show subtly places each of the artists next to/in between/opposite each other, though seemingly without a rigid structure and without preference towards one more than the other.

I found myself confronted with more than a couple of surprises; because these are later paintings from each of the artists careers, some are inevitably unfinished.  I was so glad that these were included, as in doing so Tate tripped me up and tricked me into re-evaluating much that I thought I knew about Turner.  On more than one occasion, I mistook his work for that of Twombly.  Of course, there were many of the classic ‘serious’ Turners present, but by showing the softer beginnings of these sometimes austere masterpieces, I felt like Jeremy Lewison (curator) was raising questions about whether pieces must be finished to be considered artworks.  Having said that, and in sight of this trickery, I disagree with his comment in the ‘official exhibition video’ (not its official name..) about how Turner might walk in and think “what the fuck?” when he saw Twombly’s masterful abstracts.  Strange though it would have been, I think he might have got it.


Monet: The Thames and the Houses of Parliament, 1871

It is hard to say how I felt as I made my way around.  The exhibit was split over two floors, and you could say that my regards for the works, as such, followed a similar pattern.  Opening on the ground floor, Twombly is given centre stage with his Hero and Leandro I-IV.  Wise move, Tate Liverpool.  You lured me in, simply and effectively.  Awash with instant peace and awe, I felt like I could sit in front of Hero and Leando (confusingly there are two sets of paintings with the same name..) for days.

Later though, I felt distinctly more emotional.  I am not sure why.  Perhaps it was the unexpected arrival in front of Monet’s Morning on the Seine at Giverny and Rouen Cathedral paintings, both of which I studied at As level, during what I can only describe as my lowest/most emotional/exhausted/overworked/stressed out point in my entire education (yeah, I know…wah wah wah).  But whatever the reason, these paintings had a most profound effect.

My frown was soon turned upside down, however, when I wandered through to the ‘Seasons’ section, to meet with Twombly’s mammoth Quattro Stagionni quartet.  Unable to contain a chuckle, I was happy to see that these had been included, and I almost forgave Tate a little for their removal of them from Tate Modern when I last visited (though, thinking about it, it was probably for this exhibition.  What goes around, comes around, non?).

Overall, this is probably the best exhibition that I have been to all year, closely seconded by Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet at Baltic, Newcastle (more to follow on this!).  I went from an indignant refuser, to paying my £9 and experiencing sensory overload.

And then I bought the book.  And two postcards.  Tate:1, Helen:0.  Damn.


Tate Liverpool Website: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/exhibition/turner-monet-twombly-later-paintings


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