The Fifth floor: Ideas taking space, Tate, Liverpool
Liverpool's year ends with a cultural whimper
Tuesday 06 January 2009
Be careful what you wish for, the saying goes, because you might get it. Would Marcel Duchamp, submitting his urinal to an exhibition in 1917 in order to show that art is anything we want it to be if we know how to look, or Joseph Beuys' insistence that everybody is an artist, be happy with where so much contemporary art has ended up? What once seemed so fresh and iconoclastic often now seems like a series of tired nostrums.
To mark the end of Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture, Tate Liverpool is presenting what it hails as "a groundbreaking exhibition inspired by ideas and proposals from people across the city". The title, The Fifth Floor, refers to a level in the gallery that does not, in reality, exist. Through a series of artist-led workshops with local groups, Tate Liverpool asked what sort of exhibition the people of the city wanted. One wag suggested that they should "take away all the art and replace it with people, all kinds of people, eccentric people, to emulate what was there..."
Instead, they bundled up a ragbag of proposals and invited a collection of international artists to "interpret" them. This sounds like art by committee, though Tate Liverpool would, no doubt, claim that The Fifth Floor provides an imaginary, democratic space for encounter, collaboration and creativity, where views can be exchanged, decisions and responsibilities shared, and where we can each rethink the role of artist, curator and audience, roles that much of this work suggests are interchangeable. No need for three years at art school, then.
Over and over again, work blurs the boundaries, as that old cliché goes, between artist and spectator, whether in Peter Liversidge's neon "room" that frames the viewer; Olivier Bardin's rows of nine leather armchairs, in which the gallery visitor can sit and become "part of the work"; or the Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra's photographs and videos made with Liverpool high-school pupils and in local nightclubs. It is as if the modern subject has become so self-obsessed and uncertain of his or her identity that only be uttering the mantra, "I observe myself, therefore I am", can they apparently have any sense of self in this chaotic and uncertain world.
Art that in some way does not "mirror" or "reflect" the viewer hardly seems to exist here; it proliferates through everything, from tenantspin's Community TV Channel interviews, to Paul Rooney's film of aspiring comics telling each other stories in an old cinema, and Tino Sehgal's tiresome exchange with a local person pretending to be a Tate Liverpool assistant (a rehash of a similar work shown recently at the ICA) about the current economic climate.
And however much fun the group of toddlers had in the baby disco in the interactive, modular "film-set" space created by the Swedish art collective International Festival, will this translate one day into any of them walking into a gallery to look seriously at a Titian, or even a Kiefer or Viola? The most satisfying piece here is by Xijing Men, a collective of three artists from China, Japan and South Korea. Inspired by the oral histories from their respective countries, they have produced a series of drawings that were used by a local youth theatre to create storyboards for performances reminiscent of a Javanese shadow-puppet show.
That public galleries have to appeal to a wide range of people and justify their funding goes without saying, but what a contrast this empty show makes when compared with the beautiful and, when I attended, almost empty William Blake exhibition, on the ground floor. There could not be a more graphic contrast between this and the spurious claims of The Fifth Floor to illustrate how far we have come from Blake's belief in the importance of a spiritual art for a material age, an art potentially redemptive of humanity, where we can "see a world in a grain of sand/ And a heaven in a wild flower".
To 1 February (0151-702 7400)
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
- 3 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 Average penis size revealed: Scientists attempt to find what is 'normal' to reassure concerned men
Kurt Cobain's life and death: Montage of Heck film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Jimmy McGovern's new TV series 'Banished': Why Australia's past has such resonance today
The Walking Dead, Remember, review: The discovery of a new community leads Rick to a dark decision
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'