The most recent addition to Tate Liverpool’s prolific fourth floor comes Art Turning Left: How values changed making 1789-2013. The showcase describes itself as “a thematic exhibition, based on key concerns that span different historical periods and geographical locations” around “how the production and reception of art has been influenced by left-wing values” and well, I couldn’t have put it better myself.
It’s the first exhibition of its kind, treating the making and reception of art in light of concepts collectivism, equality and the search for alternative economies, according to the press pack in front of me. In an unusual plot twist, we are treated to an examination of how politics have affected the aesthetics and perception of the artworks themselves, as opposed to the more conventional look at how political ideas are projected through the artworks.
It’s a whirlwind playback from the French Revolution when artwork was supporting the Republican cause, through to the 1980’s reinvention of the “F” word (feminism) and back to modern day context. So, so worth the £8 admission fee, not that I paid it (about the only perk of pursuing a career in journalism today).
If you’re a sucker for some viewer interaction then you will appreciate the row of hip-height columns you are greeted to as you veer left into the first room. Stacks of white A4 paper sit on top of each, emblazoned with a thought-provoking slogan. The spectator is invited to drop a donation into the slot before taking a stamp with which they brandish the paper with the artists’ signature, thus giving the piece financial value and social worth. You will also love the long strip of fabric suspended in another room in which the viewer is encouraged to stitch something using the needles and threads provided.
The only ‘left’ thing about the exhibition display itself however was the discarded biro I tripped over on my way round, nearly face-planting Braco Dimitrijevic’s ‘Casual Passers-by’ (pictured above) themselves. (Incidentally, I suspect the biro may have been purposely placed there by the exhibition supervisor who put me in my place after I made the mistake of snapping a photo on my phone – never again). Granted, there are multiple rooms, each filled with multimedia artworks from classic painting and sculpture, to more modern film and installation but if you’re expecting something a little controversial, don’t hold your breath.
All in all, with a muse so revolutionary as the evolution of left-wing politics, the exhibition space does do the collection a slight injustice. It’s hard to believe the Guerilla Girls would be framed and hung in the same way Mona Lisa sits so prim and proper on her Parisian gallery wall. Having said this, some of the pieces are utterly fantastic and Art Turning Left can be best described as a trip in the tardis to 1789 and back again and a thoroughly interesting visual documentation of history.
If left-wing politics and off-the-wall art isn’t your bag, it’s still worth a visit just to say you’ve stood within a metre of pieces from great artists including WIllian Morris, Jacques-Louis David and Guy Debord. Word to the wise though: make sure you have a good couple of hours to wind your way around the exhibition ‘cause you’re gonna need it!
Written for Good Vibes Mag