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Review: Abstract Thinking: Fanchon Fröhlich & Her Contemporaries at Victoria Gallery & Museum

Earlier this year at LJMU’s Exhibition Research Lab, the British Art and Design Association (BADA) put an exhibition together of work by Fanchon Fröhlich, who had left her entire portfolio, stored in an upstairs room of her own home, to BADA, or Terry Duffy specifically.

The purpose was to ensure a legacy and make sure a lifetime of work didn’t get lost to history. That exhibition was much freer than the current display at Victoria Gallery & Museum, and offered an opportunity to leaf through canvases and sketchbooks.

This exhibition doesn’t do that, but it does show the work as an archive, referencing lifetime influences and contemporary painters who resonate with Fröhlich’s own work.

It also opens up stories, weaving prolonged portions of Fanchon Fröhlich’s past into the work on display. Like years of collective working with Jood Gough at the Black-E, following time spent at Tate Liverpool in the late 80’s.

One really lovely touch with this show is that those stories are introduced by the files of stories and essays on the central table, surrounded by comfortable seating, so a visit isn’t contextless, or rushed. There is actually time planned in by the curators for viewers to stop, sit, and make connections between the works and the history of them.

All of the Fanchon Fröhlich work in the show is from the BADA collection, but the others from the University of Liverpool’s own collection are included for context on the time Fröhlich was working.

I’m surprised there haven’t been more of these archival exhibitions coming out of BADA, or the Victoria Gallery. Partly surprised given the amount of work on display from the University’s collections, and also because there seems to be a very natural pairing between them.

A university gallery, esteemed for its collections, alongside an organisation dedicated to building and retaining collections, seems like a perfect match.

The counterpoint is a counterpoint though. Specifically, that this exhibition is a counterpoint to the show earlier this year at LJMU’s Exhibition Research Lab. The galleries are vividly different, and the work shown in each was far removed in its display, and nature from what is shown here.

It’s a shame the two weren’t on concurrently, but it sets the stage for cross-institutional shows that highlight various aspects of work by other artists under BADA’s embrace.

Abstract Thinking: Fanchon Fröhlich & Her Contemporaries is open at the Victoria Gallery & Museum until 30th March 2024
Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith