Review: Constellations and Tate Exchange Liverpool

George Grosz, part of Tate Liverpool's Constellations & the backdrop to Tate Exchange Liverpool

Constellations and Tate Exchange Liverpool
Tate Liverpool
, until July 2017

Word and photographs by Moira Leonard

  1. Take an iconic piece of art many of the public will know, pull out the universal themes and draw a constellation of artists who are also exploring these topics. Then display all the gathered works together in an art gallery. This is ‘Constellations
  2. Take this one step further: invite universities, artist collectives, and community organisations to create their own ‘art’ directly with the public, in collaboration with Tate and established artists. Sometimes relate this to the themes in item one, sometimes not. This is ‘Tate Exchange’.
  3. Locate item two within the same space as item one and you have an idea of the experimental journey that is being embarked upon in the first floor of Tate Liverpool.

Francesco Manacorda, Artistic Director Tate Liverpool explains that ‘Tate Exchange’ is a platform to debate art issues and ideas, to generate arts narrative in collaboration with Associates’. Currently there are 13 Associates participating in this project including: Liverpool, Chester and Birmingham Universities; Dada Fest; Homotopia; Open Eye Gallery; and later in 2017 Alder Hey Hospital.

Heralded as a ground-breaking experiment, the concept is about a two-way dialogue where ideas are not just transmitted, they are generated. Manacorda illustrated this by comparing the interaction to digital media suggesting that galleries and museums are ‘moving away from the traditional TV model of ‘experts’ broadcasting out to the world, and instead embracing the world wide web model of engagement and democracy’.

Tate exchange is a physical area between two constellation exhibitions, right in the centre of the first-floor gallery. Cloaking the entrance to the space are a series of four specially commissioned curtains from the Canadian artist Tamara Henderson, inspired by the organic nature of the Scottish countryside during her residency in 2016. Symbolically Tate chose to use a curtain rather than a door so that the artistic activity could be protected but still allow visibility and easy access for the public.

Over the coming months this space will house screenings, poetry readings, workshops etc. The first of these will be with Edge Hill University Associate where a Judo performance in the studio will be beamed live as an animation into the space, linking to Yves Klein’s love of Judo on display in the exhibition on the top floor of the Gallery.

So, what of the two constellation exhibitions? Well both are inspiring and consist of a wide variety of artistic work from the Tate Collection:


  1. Suicide, 1916, by George Crosz

In this iconic painting the themes are based around conflict, specifically the changes and turmoil during, and after a period of war. Artists leading from this trigger work include famous names like Picasso, Bob and Roberta Smith, and Sarah Lucas, but also we are introduced to intriguing pieces viewers may otherwise not have come across – e.g. Karen Korr and Olivier Richon and their arresting ‘Punk Series’ photographs.

  1. Industrial Landscape,1955, by LS Lowry

Themes here focus on the urban landscape with issues around unemployment, work and labour. This constellation includes iconic artists like Mondrian and Georges Braque alongside a massive photograph of the stock market floor by Andreas Gursky reflecting the physical, but not necessarily mental step change from 1950s factory environments to the ‘brave new world’. A theme further explored by the Chinese video artist Cao Fei who asks light bulb factory workers about what they hope to achieve in the future.


Within Tate exchange, some of the activity will tackle the above themes, some will be more about the specific concerns of the Associate. Each project is determined by the Associate first submitting a proposal to Tate, a dialogue will then take place and the activity agreed. Often there will be an obvious flow from the constellations and other times it may be a much more tenuous link. However, the themes are so broad that in most cases connections can be made.

The constellations approach is something that Tate has explored before so whilst it may not be a new idea, it is very strongly interpreted in this exhibition. The Tate Exchange idea of stepping into the limelight is new and yet to be fully explored. Upcoming Tate Exchange events will be displayed on the digital screen within the exchange room, so it remains to be seen how it will work out. All I can say is…watch this space!

Tate Exchange Liverpool has a regularly changing series of events which run from 26 November 2016 onwards!

Constellations: Highlights from the Nation’s Collection of Modern Art exhibition runs from 25 November 2016 – July 2017