Between You and Me, Everything Else is Different
Review: Leo Fitzmaurice at Walker Art Gallery
Psamathe (1879-80) by Frederic, Lord Leighton looks away, with her back turned, as the subject of a distinctly average female nude that I’d likely not have paid much attention to if all other eyes in the empty room weren’t on her.
The empty room, a quiet Gallery 9 in the Walker, is in fact filled with dozens of images by over 30 artists, curated by Leo Fitzmaurice, from the Arts Council Collection. It is the eyes of these works, all directed at Psamathe, silently, subtly guiding visitors to do the same, without thinking for a moment they are being fooled.
You could easily miss it, the trickery, but once you notice what’s going on, it’s hard to feel comfortable there, in a gallery where the central gaze is taken away from the viewer, and given to a painting that directs the other works on show. As a viewer, you’re actually quite trapped in the directions the artist gives.
Leo Fitzmaurice, the artist behind this intervention at Walker Art Gallery, described the work as being a way of ‘making people conscious about the act of looking’. In fact it’s probably the opposite for most viewers, who end up either entirely unaware of the real intentions of the installation, or feel like their choice of view is actively taken away from them.
It’s quite exciting in that sense, battling against the work, feeling some sort of fight for a position of power in a gallery where hierarchies are usually set in stone. Here, neither the artist, the viewer, or the work has any absolute control of the response to the exhibition, and being part of that feels really quite special.
The works themselves aren’t new, mostly they’re taken from the Arts Council Collection, including 30 portraits by artists including Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, Milena Dragicevic, Ken Kiff, Marie-Louise von Motesiczky and Philip Sutton.
But it doesn’t actually matter who painted those works, other than to justify the immediate difference in display style between the Gallery 9, and Gallery 8; their eyes are all that really matter, positioned according to the depth and direction of their stare. Thinking back to standing underneath the canopy of distracted paintings, I don’t actually recall seeing any labels; always a pointless distraction in an installation of this kind, and a useful omission from this exhibition. Seeing the work as without information sets it as an equal to me as a viewer, makes me have to get to know it – otherwise I just have to stand as part of the crowd and look in the direction of Psamathe.
You could, legitimately, walk around the gallery not paying attention to Fitzmaurice’s input for a second as they are all paintings of a calibre that suits Walker. Their style seems to have taken a few twists away from the surrounding gallery rooms, but other than their slightly jaunty mounting it’s an exhibition of portraiture that could be passed casually on the way to the next room.
The direction of view curated the exhibition, Leo Fitzmaurice just sort of ran with it. It’s a brilliant shifting of creative control within exhibition production, and a brave exhibition to mount at the Walker. And as it’s on until March, probably not one to miss – but do make time to see it in the context of the rest of the gallery, and not just run in and out for this by itself.
The power of this exhibition is context.
Leo Fitzmaurice: Between You and Me, Everything Else is Different, continues until 17 March at Walker Art Gallery
Words, Kathryn Wainwright