2016 Round Up
Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith
Walker Art Gallery hosted the biggest ever exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite work in British history; the Biennial rediscovered the city; Tate Liverpool blew us away with exhibitions that celebrated some of the 20th Century’s greatest artists, and the 21st Century’s newest; FACT collaborated with CERN; Metal brought us a never before seen live rendition of Steve Reich’s Different Trains; Bluecoat hosted a ground breaking exhibition, curated by learning disabled artists; and nine new studios, galleries and project spaces were born.
2016 was difficult to keep up with.
At Art in Liverpool HQ we said goodbye to our founders, who have moved to Tokyo […though we hope we’ll be seeing them before too long!] after setting up, over twelve incredible years, Liverpool’s favourite news, reviews and listings site for Visual Art in Liverpool. Pre-Capital of Culture Liverpool, in 2004, was a very different place, so when they started the humble blog, it may never have occurred to them that this idea would end up being such a staple connection between a city and its culture. Either way, as they settle into their new lives, it’s fair to say that they couldn’t have ended their time at Art in Liverpool on a bigger high than 2016.
One of the most anticipated events of 2016, which brought international press to the oldest working train station in the world, was Metal Liverpool’s live orchestral screening of Steve Reich & Bill Morrison’s Different Trains Live, on the globally influential composers’ birthday. The event was plastered all over news channels and papers and begun a wave of furrowed eyebrows as to why Liverpool, the city of music wasn’t doing more to draw music into its visual arts. Whether that’s a precursor to 2017 we can’t yet know, but either way, it created a space that needs filling, and 2017 might be the year to do just that.
The other international project that got the papers talking was CERN’s collaboration with FACT. An exhibition that brought science and art into an uncomfortable shared arena, tweaking interest and gathering new audiences for art and science by playing with methods of display. It is a truly clever exhibition (continuing until 5th February) that gets CERNs creative agenda across, and puts FACT back at the forefront of world changing art.
On a different scale, and away from mixing disciplines, it’s been a big year for acting on mental health in the arts in Liverpool. National Museums Liverpool launched a world leading Dementia in museums project, while Blueroom at Bluecoat continued to develop and deliver programmes with and for adults with learning disabilities. DaDaFest delivered one of their most ambitious festivals of deaf and disabled art, but the icing on the cake was a ground-breaking exhibition at Bluecoat with artists from The Royal Standard (who have had an equally large year, moving from their established North Docks studio to the Cains Brewery Village).
The exhibition, Auto Agents, was developed by Jade French, a PhD candidate who is engaging with artists and galleries in Liverpool pretty much nonstop. But its success was in its production, curated over half a year by learning disabled curatorial group, AaA Collective. The display is part of a much wider story that Liverpool is planning to tell over 2017, about engaging communities around the Liverpool City Region that have, historically, not had access to galleries and creative education.
Liverpool Biennial took a new road this year, with a Fringe festival complied by Double Negative. Led by their Education Curator, Polly Brannan, this was the most education led Biennial that Liverpool has seen, and is at the top of its game internationally where it comes to local engagement. With two hubs away from the major galleries, in Cains Brewery and the retired ABC Cinema, the Biennial team exhibited projects that were developed with local students and communities as much as they were by the international artists that produced them. What that meant was a festival of art of international standing that actively benefitted the city it sat in. As far as we’re concerned, that summed up everything about Liverpool in 2016 perfectly; engagement, engagement, engagement.
My personal highlight though, was an exhibition that spoke of Liverpool now, just as much as the time the work was made, was the exhibition of 19th Century work by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which focussed on Liverpool’s connection to the then-ground-breaking artists. The exhibition showed off the city’s early connections to influential artistic movements, and mirrored some of the art for social change happening in Liverpool now.
Art with a purpose became a sort of buzz-word in Liverpool, at all levels of gallery work, from artists, to curators, to directors. Take Dingle’s freshly opened Florrie, with work from some of the world’s best known artists, including Jamie Reid, on display in a room adjacent to a community basketball court. Or Coming Home, a project led by Ronnie Hughes and artist Jayne Lawless that draws on the successes of their experiences with Granby4Streets and Homebaked in Anfield, that has already started work on its first new home, developed with landlords, and residents in mind.
These are things that would not have changed in Liverpool, were it not for art. Art in Liverpool has been, and will continue to feel, incredibly privileged to cover all of these momentous events, and we can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store for us.
And if you thought 2016 was hard to keep track of, wait for next week’s newsletter, where we’ll be trying our very best to pin down some of the most anticipated events planned for 2017. But for now, sit back and enjoy the little you have left of 2016. It’s been a journey.