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Liverpool Biennial 2014: JAMES MCNEILL WHISTLER

Liverpool Biennial 2014: The UK Biennial of Contemporary Art 

A Needle Walks Into a Haystack

Sat 5 July – Sun 26 October Open daily 10am - 6pm. Free

The Bluecoat will present the work of American painter James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) as part of the Liverpool Biennial 2014.

The exhibition is the first of its kind in the UK and will explore elements of Whistler’s practice and life that position him as the ‘original’ contemporary artist, in a reflection of how artists operate today. 

We will see paintings, prints, drawings, sound, ephemera and key correspondences. 

A flamboyant public figure, controversially associated with the dandies of his time, Whistler deliberately constructed the conditions with which to present and distribute his art. He not only paved the road for abstract painting and advocated ‘art for art’s sake’, but also assumed a public persona that challenged art communities, theories, critics and conventions.

As well as bold experiments in colour, subject and technique, Whistler took control of how his work was presented. He created special environments in which to display his art: from shades of paint on the walls and a patented 'Velarium' system to diffuse light in a room, to the yellow socks he asked exhibition attendants to wear. He actively engaged in debate around the value and role of art and artists, as exemplified in his 'Ten O'Clock Lecture' and numerous legal entanglements, and re-worked criticism to his own benefit, often publishing his worst reviews together with his own clever and scornful retorts.

Significantly, Whistler had many connections to Liverpool. Speke Hall was the residence of his patron, F.R. Leyland, and the exhibition includes a number of works that reference this special relationship.

Our engagement team will be on hand in the galleries throughout the exhibition asking ‘why did Whistler make his gallery security guards wear yellow socks?’ and providing free activities for families.  

A Needle Walks into a Haystack is the Biennial’s exhibition of international art that unfolds across Liverpool’s public spaces and galleries. Curated by Mai Abu ElDahab and Anthony Huberman, it disrupts the way we assume our habits, and experience our habitats. 


Exhibition related events 


Mondays – Saturdays 23 July – 30 Aug, 10am – 4pm free

Explore – Whistler

Why did Whistler make his gallery security guards wear yellow socks? Find out the answer to this question and more with our engagement team who will be in the galleries with activities for families.

Regular Explore – in the hub every Saturday 1-4pm free.

Sat 5 July 


AICA Critics' Forum

This forum looks at criticism in the context of the Liverpool Biennial. The panel comprises JJ Charleswort(Art Review), Coline Milliard (Artnet), Sacha Craddock (Chair of Bloomberg New Contemporaries), and Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton(President of  the International Association of Art Critics, UK). 

Free, booking required.


Exhibition talk

Leading Whistler scholar Margaret MacDonald from the Department of Art History, University of Glasgow, introduces the artist and the world-famous collection of his prints, copper plates and other works at the Hunterian Art Gallery.

Free, booking required.


Sat 12 July 2pm

Exhibition tour

Join the exhibition’s co-curator Rosie Cooper (Project Curator, Liverpool Biennial) and the Bluecoat’s exhibitions curator Sara-Jayne Parsons.

Free, just turn up.


Sat 9 August 2pm

Exhibition tour

Simone Mair (Assistant Curator, Liverpool Biennial) leads this tour.

Free, just turn up

6 - 29 June 

Choose Your Own Adventure

Poster works curated by Danah Abdullah for the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival 


3 July – 3 August   

On New Grounds

This selection of intaglio prints exhibited takes its inspiration from Whistler’s drypoint and etching work in the gallery. A range of artists explores the potential of traditional print processes within contemporary fine art practice. 


Fri-Sun 4-6 July 10am-5pm

The Caravan Gallery

The well-travelled Caravan Gallery returns to the Bluecoat courtyard with an exhibition of photos from its ever growing Is Britain Great? archive that documents the reality and surreality of modern life, images that are thought-provoking, distressingly perceptive and beautifully absurd. 


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About the Bluecoat

Bluecoat is Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, the oldest in the UK. Our landmark building, located in the ...

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Tickets & Information

0151 702 5324 |

Who's blogging?

October Half Term at Bluecoat

published by Barry

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