I love art. When I arrive in a new city, I check the shower works in my hotel and bin the piss-poor Twinings tea by the kettle. Then, I find out where the nearest gallery is. I’ve spent a whole day checking out The Prado in Madrid, marvelling at a variety of pictures; generally only glimpsed lovingly in books (this was 2004). Then I gave it toes to The Reina Sofia over the road. A whole floor of devoted to the passionate chiaroscuro of Guernica by Picasso. Beat dat.
In Liverpool, we are blessed with many galleries. The 800lb gorilla is Tate Liverpool. It has been here since 1988, I have visited it on many occasions. I was a member until last summer, paying about £60 a year for free entry. It was the Mondrian/Mohamedi exhibition that was the final straw. A smattering of Mondrian, a recreation of his studio (facing The Mersey, a very pomo touch). But there was a plethora of missed opportunities. Mondrian visited Liverpool (tell me more. No? OK). Here is a collection of his boogie-woogie records that Jools Holland would be proud of (what is the influence on his work?).
When I arrive in a new city, I check the shower works in my hotel and bin the piss-poor Twinings tea by the kettle. Then, I find out where the nearest gallery is.
The Mohamedi seemed like an afterthought, a tenuous connection to Mondrian. The previous Summer; at least Turner (impressionism) Twombly (impressionism) and Monet (the absolute master) had some sort of tangible link. It also seemed emblematic of a modern gallery losing its way.
In my own mind, a museum should be a place of thought and inspiration, hence the name. Too many galleries are linking separate exhibitions and displaying works from a number of artists. Of course, there is a very obvious reason for this: most art does not travel, for security and insurance reasons. Plus, the reason that it’s probably big enough a draw in its home to stay where it is. I was lucky enough to see Golconda by Magritte at Tate Liverpool. What the good folks of Houston, Texas think of it is another matter.
But to link work for the paucity of the original is ineffably lazy, see also death by white cards. Here, some random with an art history degree tells you, a person who has paid up to £15 for the privilege what you should think. I glance at them to confirm the title and artist, which is generally enough for me – a free-thinking independent human being – to form an opinion of what it all means. Tate Liverpool is filled with these. Apart from the stated reasons, they are by and large unnecessary. To tell someone what to think, is vaguely insulting, in my book. To do so, within the context of art is unforgivable.
So, where does one go?
Not far from Tate is Museum Of Liverpool, which by contrast has too much stuff in it. It appears to have been created by a five year old with unlimited access to Irn Bru and Haribo. The smaller exhibitions on the top floor are better. I’d also recommend the Open Eye, which is tucked away under the ugly black blocks of Mann Island. It has a small, but beautiful, perfectly formed photography exhibitions; which both challenge the mind and cleanse the soul. A trip to the fading Victoriana of Southport brings you to The Atkinson (formerly Southport Library). A nice collection of art from the dusty vaults of Sefton Council is always nice, but on top of this, the exhibitions are always well-thought out and appropriate to both the season and the town.
Galleries rise and fall, subject to the vicissitudes of artistic directors. At the moment, Tate Liverpool is living on its reputation, the smaller galleries are chipping away at it. To continue my analogy: The Tate is King Kong; the smaller galleries are biplanes circling, looking for a decent shot.