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HomeFeaturesReviewsReview: The Williamson Open 2024, at Williamson Art Gallery & Museum

Review: The Williamson Open 2024, at Williamson Art Gallery & Museum

Open exhibitions are part and parcel of life as an artist. They offer space to show and sell your work, and for many, an opportunity to prove to yourself that your work was, is, worth it.

Last time we counted, there was something like 5,000 artists in Merseyside (based on studio memberships, the ratio of artists with studios and without, and how long artists remain working after leaving university… we didn’t literally count them). But open exhibitions put a huge question mark over who we class as an artist.

Is an artist just someone who sells their work, or it someone who seeks to share it regardless? I’ve written in the past about divisions between art and craft, which are blurry at best. But, if you want to judge for yourself, then take the time to see the Williamson Open, and then the Sefton Open at The Atkinson, and then the Kirkby Gallery Open.

Everyone can be an artist, it isn’t a qualified position. There are those of us who study ways of working, do Masters degrees, doctorates, etc. but that’s just one avenue.

There are also some who, for whatever social, economic, cultural reason, are excluded from higher education in the arts, and others whose families and educators told couldn’t do it, because it wasn’t a real job.

For whatever reason, having the invitation to submit work (which is almost entirely unique to open exhibitions) breaks down barriers. It invites artists who would never consider applying for commissions, solo shows, or present their work to the gallery otherwise. So what you get is a much, much, wider range of work than nearly anywhere else.

This year was probably the widest spread entry list at the Williamson, with hundreds of entrants from all over the Liverpool City Region, making sure the gallery is recognized as a creative hub for Merseyside, not just Birkenhead or the Wirral.

So more than usual were probably rejected, and the bar was higher than in recent years. It also feels like there is more variety in terms of photography, figurative, landscape, abstract and portraiture, focusing on a wider range of subjects too.

I should say, that none of this is unique to the Williamson, but that this year’s open, thanks to its ambition to extend out to the wider region, achieved a scale and scope unlike any I’ve seen in recent years.

The 2024 Williamson Open is open Wednesdays-Saturdays until 16th March

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

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