The Bluecoat will present the work of American painter James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) as part of the Liverpool Biennial 2014 Exhibition A Needle Walks into a Haystack.
The exhibition is the first of its kind in the UK and will explore elements of Whistler’s practice and life that position him as the ‘original’ contemporary artist, in a reflection of how artists operate today.
We will see paintings, prints, drawings, sound, ephemera and key correspondences.
A flamboyant public figure, controversially associated with the dandies of his time, Whistler deliberately constructed the conditions with which to present and distribute his art. He not only paved the road for abstract painting and advocated ‘art for art’s sake’, but also assumed a public persona that challenged art communities, theories, critics and conventions.
As well as bold experiments in colour, subject and technique, Whistler took control of how his work was presented. He created special environments in which to display his art: from shades of paint on the walls and a patented ‘Velarium’ system to diffuse light in a room, to the yellow socks he asked exhibition attendants to wear. He actively engaged in debate around the value and role of art and artists, as exemplified in his ‘Ten O’Clock Lecture’ and numerous legal entanglements, and re-worked criticism to his own benefit, often publishing his worst reviews together with his own clever and scornful retorts.
Significantly, Whistler had many connections to Liverpool. Speke Hall was the residence of his patron, F.R. Leyland, and the exhibition includes a number of works that reference this special relationship.
Our engagement team will be on hand in the galleries throughout the exhibition asking ‘why did Whistler make his gallery security guards wear yellow socks?’ and providing free activities for families.
A Needle Walks into a Haystack is the Biennial’s exhibition of international art that unfolds across Liverpool’s public spaces and galleries. Curated by Mai Abu ElDahab and Anthony Huberman, it disrupts the way we assume our habits, and experience our habitats.