posted 28 Feb 2017
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A brief overview of Public View
From the First Post-Impressionist Exhibition in 1911 that featured works by Picasso, Matisse and others at the forefront of modern European art, to showcases of the next generation of British artists like the recent Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Bluecoat has been an important regional venue for new art. For over a century its gallery has helped launch many artists’ careers, initiated and hosted significant UK and international touring exhibitions, and reflected new developments in the visual arts, while nurturing the local artistic community.
The first in a year-long programme of exhibitions and events celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Bluecoat building, Public View brings together works by 106 artists who have exhibited at Bluecoat. This is but a small sample of the many who have shown here in an estimated 1,000 plus exhibitions since 1908, when a painting by French Impressionist Claude Monet was included in the first recorded exhibition. However, Public View aims to reflect something of Bluecoat’s curatorial interests through a selection of works drawn mostly from the last 50 years.
Including little seen or early works by some artists, and representing a wide generational range and a breadth of artistic practice, the exhibition is not however a representative selection from our gallery history, decade by decade. It aims instead to provide a snapshot of Bluecoat’s curatorial directions, and reflect the balance it has sought in its programming between emerging, mid-career and established artists, and between the local, national and international. These include two Turner Prize winners, prominent graphic designers, artists who had a profound impact on the Liverpool scene including some with studios at Bluecoat, others who moved between the worlds of art and music or performance, international artists who had early UK shows here, and many whom Bluecoat supported early in their career.
There is a wide range of work included – paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, multiples, sculptures, mixed media, videos – many of them previously exhibited at Bluecoat, some re-made or ‘updated’ especially for this show, and others completely new.
Apart from in the exhibition’s first room, there is no chronological order to the display, but - as the exhibition took shape and works were laid out during its installation - unexpected connections were revealed, sometimes between works produced several decades apart. Elsewhere it made sense to group works formally or thematically. For example, Peter Kennard, Lesley Sanderson, Juginder Lamba and Marisa Rueda have all contributed expressive works made in response to pressing political or social concerns.
Particularly from the late 1970s onwards, Bluecoat developed distinct strands in its exhibition programme that reflected the more socially engaged or issue-based in contemporary – mainly British - art practice. Thus, the exhibition includes works addressing issues surrounding race and identity, feminism, disability, globalisation and the environment - concerns that continue to resonate today.
Some artists’ relationships to the venue have been through performance, such as two live events from 1967 documented here, Yoko Ono’s, and Mark Boyle and Joan Hills’, or Jeremy Deller’s Bluecoat commission, Acid Brass, presented at off site at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, from which his print History of the World derived.
It has not been possible to recreate any of the memorable video installations presented by Bluecoat in collaboration with leading moving image organisation Merseyside Moviola – who were building tenants for over a decade until, renamed FACT, they moved to new premises. Yet this strand of work was important for Bluecoat, despite the inadequacy of our old gallery spaces and unreliability of equipment in what now seems like the technological dark ages. Several video works are however included here, dating from post-2008, as well as earlier pieces: a film from Stephen Dwoskin, not seen since 1967 when it was commissioned by Bluecoat, and Keith Piper’s newly digitised version of a slide/tape installation, shown in 1985.
At the same time, artists’ more formal interests in the continued vitality and reinvigoration of traditional media like painting, sculpture, drawing and printmaking are strongly represented in the exhibition. Many of these works were first shown in the older gallery and, evoking this space - which consisted of four domestic-scale interconnected rooms - Brigitte Jurack is showing a series of photo works, partly located where the old gallery was. In them, the pitted walls, with their drilled, rawlplugged and polyfilla’d screw holes, are evidence of Bluecoat’s long exhibition history.
Some of that history is revealed in the accompanying archive exhibition, Art at the Heart of the Bluecoat, also on display at Bluecoat. This display includes a selection of exhibition posters and, on the upper level, photographs and catalogues from past gallery exhibitions and offsite projects.
Bryan Biggs is Bluecoat Artistic Director and Public View curator. He worked with many of the artists in the exhibition as Gallery Director, as well as in more recent years.
Many of the exhibiting artists are generously donating their work in the exhibition, or another work, to an online fundraising auction that will help ensure Bluecoat continues its support for artists.
The auction will be held in the Autumn later this year, powered by Paddle8.
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