Liverpool's centre for the contemporary arts

Who's blogging?

Latest post

October Half Term at Bluecoat

published by Barry

This October Half Term we've lined up a whole host of great activities for you and your family. Join the ...


Book Tickets

Tickets & Information

0151 702 5324 |

Support Us

For more information about how you can support the Bluecoat please visit the support us section

Stay up to date

Bluecoat alumnus in Arts Council Collection’s 70th Anniversary Commissions

The Arts Council Collection, the national loan collection of modern and contemporary British art, has announced plans for marking its 70th anniversary during 2016, including a newly commissioned piece by renowned British artist Keith Piper, to be shown here at Bluecoat this Autumn.

Keith Piper’s piece is one of 8 new commissions that will open at different venues across the UK throughout 2016 before becoming a permanent part of the Arts Council Collection where they will be available for loan to museums, galleries and other spaces nationally and internationally. 

2016, and the Arts Council Collection is 70. Next year the Bluecoat building will celebrate its 300th birthday. On the radio the other day there was a discussion about anniversaries, how we are in danger of celebrating any date with a zero or two after it just for the sake of it, and how the bigger ones like Shakespeare’s death – 400 years ago this year – become marketing exercises, while the thing worth celebrating somehow gets lost in the brand.

Both the two I mentioned above however promise to provide opportunities to reveal their respective riches. Over 70 years, the Arts Council has amassed a fantastic collection of art made in the UK and I am looking forward to the various exhibitions over the coming year that draw from the collection. The eight commissioned works to join the collection look really exciting and I am particularly pleased that Bluecoat has a connection with three of the artists.

Turner Prize winner Mark Leckey, a Merseysider by birth, curated the memorable The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things, a Hayward Touring Exhibition that focused on how our relationships with artworks and common objects alike are being transformed through new information technologies. The show was launched here in 2013, and interestingly Mark’s new commission, ‘Inside Felix the Cat’, follows on from a gigantic inflatable of the Felix cartoon character that he created for that show.   

John Akomfrah, whose new work for the collection can be seen at Arnolfini in Bristol from next week, also launched his acclaimed film ‘The Unfinished Conversation’ at Bluecoat, in 2012. We became involved in the project when Mark Sealy, director of Autograph, and commissioner of the film, approached me with the idea to premiere it here. The film, developed over several years as a conversation between John, Mark and its subject, Stuart Hall, one of the key figures in the development of Cultural Studies in Britain, was finally going into production. We launched it as part of Bluecoat’s contribution to that year’s Liverpool Biennial, of which it was widely regarded as the stand out work, and it has since been purchased by Tate and British Council. Taking its title from Hall's theory that individual identities are always contingent, an 'ever-unfinished conversation' with history, the film struck a chord and many visitors returned to see it again and again.

There was an added resonance presenting the film first in Liverpool, a port with a long history of global connections and migrations. Hall himself was Jamaican-born and came to England as part of what came to be called the Windrush Generation (the first large group of Caribbean immigrants arrived aboard the SS Empire Windrush at Tilbury in 1948. Hall arrived three years later). As traced recently in John Belchem’s book, Before The Windrush: Race Relations in 20th-Century Liverpool, there has been a much older black community in the city, and a history that begins with the port’s exploitation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, from which it derived its wealth from the early 18th century onwards.

This was a history that Keith Piper interrogated in his first exhibition at Bluecoat in 1985, when together with Sonia Boyce, Eddie Chambers and Tom (Tam) Joseph, he participated in Black Skin Bluecoat, a relatively small but hugely significant exhibition that marked the start of our gallery’s long relationship with British-based black and Asian artists whom we have supported as a core part of our work for many years. One of Keith’s works in that show, ‘Trophies of Empire’, was also the title we chose for a large collaborative project in 1992.

Keith approached me with the idea to create a new work, ‘Trade Winds’, that would explore the continuing legacies of slavery and how they are entwined with global capital. We presented the resulting installation, a series of videos, face up in packing crates, at the nearby Merseyside Maritime Museum.

It was just one of several commissions presented as part of Trophies of Empire in Liverpool, as well as in Bristol - like Liverpool a significant slave port - and in Hull, the home of abolitionist MP William Wilberforce. With Keith and curators from the venues in the other two port cities, we developed the idea for the project, the residue of our colonial and imperial past as evidenced in contemporary Britain, setting this in the context of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ ‘discovery’ of America and a counter campaign to the Quincentenary celebrations, called 500 Years of Resistance. I will be giving an illustrated talk about Trophies at Bluecoat on 20 January as part of the The Work Between Us symposium, the first public event of the Black Artists and Modernism research project, led by another Bluecoat artist alumnus, Sonia Boyce.

Keith has exhibited here on several other occasions, in the biannual Video Positive festivals that Bluecoat tenants Moviola, who became FACT, presented to showcase some of the best international moving image work; and in New Contemporaries in 1986 – incidentally, this annual showcase of graduate work returns to Bluecoat this summer, 40 years after it was last here (yes, another anniversary!), when I was pleased to be asked to be one of the selectors and remember arguing strongly for the inclusion of Keith’s dynamic series of paintings, ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.’

Everything comes full circle, and Keith returns to Bluecoat later this year with a solo exhibition, his most substantial for some time, which we are developing in collaboration with our colleagues at Iniva. Its centrepiece will be ‘Unearthing the Banker’s Bones’, the three screen video installation work that has been commissioned for the Arts Council Collection, and which uses a science fiction device of reflecting on the present from the perspective of an imagined, apocalyptic future. Starting in October, the exhibition continues into 2017 - a great way to kick off Bluecoat’s tercentenary year.

It is really gratifying to see the work of these artists acknowledged by their inclusion in the Collection. They are just three examples of artists we have supported in different ways, in Keith’s case from early in his career. Congratulations to Mark, John and Keith!


Related posts you may like

There are no related posts.


Be the first to leave a comment below...

Leave a comment

Welcome, Guest. Please or to have your say.

About the Bluecoat

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

Opening hours

Mon - Sat 9.00am - 6.00pm
Sun 11.00am - 6.00pm

Tickets & Information

0151 702 5324 |

Who's blogging?

October Half Term at Bluecoat

published by Barry

Tweets from @theBluecoat


Please use this form to tell us about your experience of our website.

There was an error with your details, please try entering them again.

Stay up to date

Subscribe to the Bluecoat free mailing list and we'll send you all the details of our new events

Log In

There was an error with your details, please try entering them again.