Art Turning Left

Tate Liverpool has put together an absorbing exhibition looking at how the ‘production and reception’ of art from the eighteenth century to the present day has been influenced by left-wing ideals.
From the get-go this is going to go down a treat with lefties while those on the right, many of whom may be fans of some of the artists included in the show, likely to be left feeling that there are some questionable ideas emanating from this show.
Entitled Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making: 1789 – 2013, the story begins with one of the most tumultuous and important events in European history. The French Revolution was an era-long schismatic event (1787 – 1799) that challenged the old order of aristocratic, didactic rule.
Though you could argue little has changed – the decadence of King Louis XVI and the upper class gentry exists today in various forms – it did, along with the American War of Independence, help usher in a new and enlightened way of thinking.
Though things could be better, the western world we live in today is much better than it would have been had kings and queens and their grand, lavish and exclusive empires endured and for there to have been no radical self-aware epiphany. Ignorance is bliss perhaps, we would be none the wiser.
Alas but we are and so appropriately, the show ends in the present, which is to say the exhibition is an open book, history yet to be realised, the left still struggling to convince the masses that social equality is something to aspire to.
In some ways, this could serve as a criticism of liberal thinking – and therefore capable of being enjoyed by those with a more conservative understanding of humanity – but in actuality, it is more suggestive of unrealised dreams of a better world.
The Guardian’s Adrian Searle finds it a little too loud and incoherent and stretching itself too far and wide to really deliver a suitable conclusion about the impact of politics on art and vice versa.
“Can pursuing equality change how art is made? How can art speak with a collective voice? Do we need to know who makes art? And can it affect everyone?” he asks in an article for the newspaper.
“Gulp. Big and useful questions, but too much for a show that covers a single floor of Tate Liverpool, and which takes us from David’s Marat to William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement; from the Bauhaus to the Paris barricades in 1968; from the Guerrilla Girls’ feminist calls for more gender equality in the New York art world to the avant-garde in 1980s Yugoslavia.”
However, the long historical exposure and contextualisation of paintings such as Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat (1793-4), Maximilien Luce’s L’aciérie (1894), Julian Trevelyan’s Rubbish May be Shot Here (1937), Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane’s Folk Archive (2000–2006), give us food for thought. Russel Brand wants a revolution. Take a look at this exhibition and see what world you want live in. Be the change.
Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making: 1789 – 2013 at Tate Liverpool runs until February 2nd 2014.
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