Review: Works To Know by Heart: An Imagined Museum at Tate Liverpool

Paul Almasy Louvre Paris 1942
Paul Almasy Louvre Paris 1942

Works To Know by Heart: An Imagined Museum (soon to be A Living Museum)
at Tate Liverpool. Friday 20 November 2015 – Sunday 14 February 2016.

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith

Nobody listens anymore. I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me, I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough it’ll make sense. And I want you to teach me to understand what I read.” (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451) is the message we are offered by Tate Liverpool’s new special exhibition. The words above have been stolen from Fahrenheit 451, just as this exhibition has been stolen from three different collections, which have in turn stolen the work from artists, who have stolen their ideas from memory in the first instance. And it couldn’t be more perfect if it tried.

An Imagined Museum takes the importance of art, twists it around hundreds of intricate corners, and delivers us the product as an opportunity. This exhibition has a beautiful sentiment which urges us to remember our experience of art; a sentiment taken from Ray Bradbury’s 1953 masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451. The exhibition opens with Paul Almasy’s, Louvre, taken in 1942, highlighting the severe reality this exhibition imagines and moves further and further into the present. The photograph is a document of an emptied Louvre, having evacuated the paintings during The War.

The exhibition begs us to consider what we would we do if, god forbid, this happened again? Who would be charged with documenting the memory of the work? Tate Liverpool’s artistic director, Francesco Manacorda, summed up the answer, saying it is based in the “premise that the public must memorise the art works in order to transport them into the future.”

It is this generosity of Tate Liverpool which transports the role of the gallery, and shows us that this magnate of the arts in Liverpool truly understands its responsibilities. If you’re wondering what I’m on about, it comes back to the exhibition’s title, An Imagined Museum. This title, on February 20th 2016, will change to 2053: A Living Museum. Hailing Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel again, and giving the public the opportunity to memorialise the works in the exhibition.


For the final two days of the show every work in the gallery will be removed, and replaced by willing members of the public, who are invited to apply for the role of the artwork. It’s an incredible opportunity for gallery visitors to engage with the arts, in a way that will hopefully be managed with the care and attention that has gone into putting together this exhibition in the first place. Throughout the exhibition’s life there will be various performances and events, further supporting its deserved claim to the title of A Living Museum.

I for one will be applying to replace Kosuth’s Clock, for no other reason than to preserve my sanity, but I hope to god they choose a member of the public who will add to its memory, rather than me who will toy with its themes and critique its idea. This exhibition is set to end in something incredibly brave, and anyone with an ounce of empathy should try to preserve it in their own memories, rather than wait until someone else does it for them.