Review by Natasha Lamb
Photographs courtesy Patrick M Higgins Photography
The first ever exhibition of its kind, Art Turning Left examines the relationship between left-wing politics and art. It features original artwork, archival material, films and visitor-dependant pieces, by artists and assemblages from across the world, spanning 1789 to the present day, all of which present a political message. But can a show that is based around politics appeal to Tate’s family audience?
Upon entering the exhibition space attention is drawn to a windmill-like structure that tells the story of the Tucuman Arde, a 1960s project by a group of Argentinians who confronted left-wing principles through performance art. The project involved events and ‘happenings’ that unbeknownst to the public featured themselves as part of the art/political statement. The hands-on nature of the display will appeal to adults and children alike, and visitors are invited to rotate the various moving parts to discover more about the group.
Another key piece is A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World (2011) by Ruth Ewan. It is a compilation of thousands of songs that are themed around conflict and protest, all of which are available for visitors to play through a jukebox. With songs by artists ranging from the Ramon Lopez Quartet to Green Day, the exhibit succeeds in engaging visitors of all ages, and even if children find the nearby political artworks dull they can still be kept entertained by Ewan’s creation.
The exhibition presents the left-wing ideology of communism through a family-friendly medium. Introduced in 1968 and recreated in many museums worldwide since, David Medalla’s A Stitch in Time is an interactive piece that visitors must communally work on in order to construct a piece of art that will be complete at the end of the exhibition. A large piece of cloth, coloured reels of thread and needles are provided.
An exhibition confronting left-wing principles would not be complete without mention of the Guerilla Girls, a group who produce art to promote feminist ideologies. Screenprints of their propaganda posters, with bold text and gorilla images are highly eye-catching and will engage visitors both young and old.
The show’s headliner is The Death of Marat (1793), painted by the studio of Jaques-Louis David. Jean-Paul Marat was, like David, a member of the Jacobian Republican group during the French Revolution. After his assassination, David had his studio produce several copies of The Death of Marat, and it is one of these copies that we see on display. It is one of the earliest examples of oil on canvas made to communicate a political message, and instead of being displayed at the elitist salon like all of his other works, David sent them across France for everyone to see. The skill of the paintwork will astound the adult visitor, whilst the brutal topic will captivate a younger audience
The stimulating subject matter marries consistently attentive curating, resulting in an engrossing, and informative show. It blends the work of well known artists and groups with the lesser acknowledged, providing a diverse learning experience. By the use of a variety of mediums, Tate succeeds in creating an exhibition suitable for all ages, that explains the link between left-wing politics and art.
Art Turning Left- How Values Changed Making 1789 -2013 runs until 2 February 2014 at Tate Liverpool.