Thursday, 31 March 2011

British Art: 1880-1950 @ Walker & Knowledge Lives Everywhere @ FACT

Recently it’s seemed like nearly everything is geared towards children and their keepers. I’ve known since I started writing this blog that if I was chronicling my ongoing adventures with a small creature that had escaped from my womb, I’d be giddy with the fumes of incoming links.

I guess it makes sense, I think there are more of them than me. The yummy mummies undoubtedly outnumber the misanthropic singletons, or perhaps they just carry more legislative weight?

Tonight I’ve been to two very different new exhibitions in Liverpool, both of which are decidedly family friendly.

The Walkers new room, British Art: 1880-1950, makes brilliant use of the neglected space beyond their displays Victorian and Impressionist art. Showcasing some wonderful paintings by luminaries such as Jacob Epstein, LS Lowry and Lucian Freud, the display includes a particulary beautiful painting by Paul Nash, a long standing favourite of mine.

Together with complementary lighting and a sympathetic hang, there’s enough interactive claptrap to entertain the young and those who don’t have the attention span to simply enjoy looking at art. Usually I’d be vehmently against this kind of thing, but it is discreetly and well implemented enough not to distract from what is most important in the room - a fantastic, and very impressive, selection of British painting.

The British Art: 1880-1950 room in progress, from National Museums Liverpool 

If you have neither children nor a well developed sense of social responsibility, Knowledge Lives Everywhere, the new exhibition at FACT, probably isn’t for you.

Downstairs a series of stridently playful interactive installations set the mood, highlighting the work of seven groups that work with FACT. I wouldn't say there was anything wrong with them, other than purely not being to my taste. I like art that seductive invites engagement, not demands participation to be appreciated. It feels like an invasion of my intellectual space.

Despite some flimsy rhetoric, as timely platform to publicise their community work, and to anchor their gallery space within that programme, it’s probably a great success for FACT... but as art its all a bit meh.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Anxious about the arts...

Anyone else feeling a tad demoralised?

Yesterday, as Arts Council England announced it’s funding settlements for what are now National Portfolio Organisations, was pretty nerve-wracking.  As it turns out the situation was not as dramatic as feared, but hardly encouraging for anyone who cares about the arts in this country.

When fantastic small groups like Urban Strawberry Lunch lose what little funding they did receive from Arts Council England, it puts the cuts to some of my favourite Liverpool arts organisations –for example 4.9% for the Everyman and Playhouse and 11% for FACT (both in real terms over 4 years) – in a rose tinted context.

The official announcements, the tweets of relief and outrage, the newspaper and blog scramble to assess the impact, was utterly overwhelming, especially for someone who isn’t used to thinking about things politically or mathematically. Thankfully, Seven Streets do a very good job of summarising the headline figures for Merseyside organisations.

When Liverpool City Council recently handed out a flat 20% funding cut for all arts organisations, the dialogue was often pushed in the direction that it was a question of either/or…  that it’s education and public services against the arts. If you force even the most ardent artinista to weigh the value of a rape crisis centre against an arts centre, there is absolutely no choice. Yesterday this worrying rhetorical trend continued, with my friend and LIPA lecturer Maria Barrett commenting in a tweet: “'Arts Funding or NHS & education?' premise of #radio2 call in disgusting. Looking forward to 'TV Licence or food?' next week. #artsfunding

I won’t roll out that trite quote from Winston Churchill about arts funding that is doing the rounds, but I will suggest to fuck over the arts is the effectively neuter any city outside of London. This didn’t happen yesterday, but feels like a step towards it. We will be discovering what the decisions announced yesterday really means for the arts in the follow months.

Let’s upgrade demoralised to anxious.