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Review: New Works/Walker Art Gallery

Stella McCartney, Anish Kapoor and Yoko Ono are among those brought out of the store cupboard

Written by . Published on February 5th 2013.

Review: New Works/Walker Art Gallery

MOST visitors to the Walker, whether they're regulars, first-timers, school parties or tourists, firstly appreciate the architectural grandeur of the place, sitting, as it is, at the top end of William Brown Street.

This is the end of the city specifically designed to provide a permanent memorial to our previous Victorian benefactors. One wonders where Liverpool would be today without the philanthropy of the Roscoes, the Holts, the Walkers and so on.

To have Stella’s work on display here shows
that it’s possible to incorporate fashion as art
and justifies the curator's belief in extending
the boundaries where appropriate

Once inside, permanent exhibitions display the gradual development of European art from the 13th century through each gallery.

However, a fact often overlooked is that a sizeable part of the collection is held in storage - same goes for Lady Lever and Williamson Art Galleries. We’re fortunate that they're free to simply wander around.

The point of this show is quite straightforward. Yes, the Walker does have a wealth of established works, but part of its overall remit includes a budget for acquiring new works.

Also, mention must be made of the investments made possible by the Contemporary Art Society’s Art and Sculpture Funds. After all, the world of art in the 21st century and its plethora of visual/aural/sensory manifestations never stands still.

So, New Works at the Walker is designed to provide proof positive that it's hitting the mark in the reputational stakes, perhaps with a sideways glance at the international market. This is quite evident in the range of artists chosen to display: Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, Paula Rego, Yoko Ono, Lubaina Himid and Haroon Mirza.

Well, at least it makes a change from the BritArt of the 1990s which, looking through the critical lens of time, now looks decidedly tawdry in its emphasis on self-indulgence and narcissism.

So, what do we make of these new acquisitions? Well, some of them worked for me and others left me cold.

Haroon-MirzaHaroon Mirza:  A Sleek Dry Yell

One such was A Sleek Dry Yell [2008] by Haroon Mirza. OK, so he won the Northern Art Prize in 2010 and gained the award for "best emerging international artist" at last year’s Venice Biennale, but “installation art”is beginning to lose its linguistic credibility for me when put together like this. What we are presented with is a collection of copper coins, some old speakers and cascading water combining to produce a rhythm of noises.

I've seen better Fine Art Degree Shows, even at Foundation level, than this. Contextually, it failed to impress. Conceptually, it left me quite depressed. 

Now, contrast this to Red in the Centre [1981/2] by Anish Kapoor. Free standing sculptures, almost like organic, alien creations [particularly the red tongue of Kali] seemed to echo the wails of a vanished civilisation, if not mythology.

Anish-KapoorAnish Kapoor: Red in the Centre echoes the wails of a vanished civilisation

Between the two, one can discern a clash of cultures between Haroon's post-modern, perhaps soulless, technologically advanced work and Kapoor’s power to invoke the spirits of an ancient symbolism. The first is mundane, the latter pure magic.

What came as quite as surprise was the joint display of work by Stella McCartney and Yoko Ono. In this case, we have Skirt, a hand-painted and appliquéd silk motif skirt [Chloé, Spring 2001]. The horse is taken from George Stubbs "Horse attacked by a Lion". Coincidentally, the Walker has another version of the scene in its own collection.

I'm not a womenswear guru and wouldn't claim expertise on this, but it definitely works as a piece of art rather than for wearing, as such, and it’s done with a sharp eye for detail. Copies of this skirt with printed versions have been sold on eBay for as little as $160 so there's quite a reasonable pret-a-porter market there. This one was bought from WAG emporium Cricket, in 2001.

Walker Art Gallery Stella MccartneyStella McCartney: Grand National Ladies day outfit or not?

Still, to have Stella’s work on display here shows that it’s possible to incorporate fashion as art and justifies the curator's belief in extending the boundaries where appropriate. In this case, they were right.

As for Yoko's work, we are treated once again to Skyladders which has actually been exhibited in Liverpool before at the bombed-out Church in 2008. Overdue credit to Ambrose Reynolds for getting that one off the ground.

This is a random and varied collection of wooden stepladders which hark back to when she first met John Lennon at the Indica Gallery in London in 1966 at a private view of an exhibition Unfinished Paintings and Objects.

Word had got around that a "happening" might take place. Yes, it was that kind of time and hippiedom was on its short-lived rise in popular culture.

Apparently, on arrival, Ono handed him a card that said simply, "Breathe." Next, John saw a white-painted ladder leading up to a canvas suspended from the ceiling, with a magnifying-glass hanging from it on the end of a chain. Climbing to the top, he looked through it to read a word printed in tiny  letters. It said simply "YES". So, that's how they met.

SkyladdersSkyladders: Time for a haiku moment

It's quite evident that Yoko still wants to keep that personal memory alive, this time by not just having one ladder but an extended family of them. I was quite moved by the simplicity of them all, even more so  when I read the hand-written description..."Pick a ladder, Watch it very carefully, Climb the ladder, In your dream, To get nearer to the sky".

If you ever wondered what a haiku looked like in 3D - this is it.

Incidentally, if you want to know more about "Skyladders",  Exhibitions Officer Linda Pittwood will provide an insight into it and offer some additional  background to the work on Saturday 16th February between 1-1.30pm and it’s free.

There are, also, a collection  of very large backlit, technically proficient photographs based on the Botanic Gardens taken by Jyll Bradley in 2008My favourite was an interior of Sefton Park Palm House which had an intense blue sky and internal lighting. Given that practically all my previous visits to the Palm House took place in the daytime, this image gives a completely different impression...more sombre and serene.

Pickstone-Lightbox Stevie Smith and the Willow by Sarah Pickstone

Lastly, Stevie Smith and the Willow by Sarah Pickstone [2011] which is unusual in itself, being oil and acrylic on an aluminium base. Having read the description, it's hard not to empathise with her, original intentions..."the girl (artist, poet, reader, child) bathes in the  water under an old weeping willow: part tree, part self, part story, part rebirth".

Yes, I  recognise the significance of the metaphysical aspects, yes, I appreciate her desire to wrap Smith in the cloak of Mother Nature. But, overall, I found it badly executed and difficult to like more than a passing glimpse.

This is a snapshot of New Works at the Walker. You need to spend some time yourself for a better understanding of the range of work which includes jewellery, prints, video, a Ben Johnson preparatory drawing of the Liverpool Citycsape, shark fins in a suitcase and more.

With this range, there's a good chance that you'll find at least something to gladden your artistic heart.

*New Works at The Walker, Walker Art Gallery, William Brown Street, Liverpool, L3 8EL. Runs indefinitely. Free.

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AnonymousFebruary 6th 2013.

Good solid criticism. Liked

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