I'm no lover of art, so Ben Johnson's Liverpool Cityscape 2008 and the World Panorama Series exhibition came a distant second to the public lectures featuring Richard Dawkins and Patrick Cockburn in my European Capital of Culture programme. How wrong I was.
Liverpool Cityscape 2008 was a marathon not a sprint. Commissioned by National Museums Liverpool three years ago, the panorama was completed at the Walker Art Gallery under the gaze of more than 50,000 visitors over six weeks, making it a spectacle befitting Liverpool's status as 2008's European Capital of Culture.
Cityscape faithfully reproduces five square miles of the city on a canvas 16ft long by 8ft high that encompasses 700 colours and features more than 900 buildings. And this from a position 500 metres out into the Mersey and 220 metres above the river, a vantage point approximating the Royal Liver Building's Liver Birds. Johnson includes projects due to be completed in 2008, chief among them the Museum of Liverpool Life – Cityscape's permanent home-to-be – thus signifying a city in progress rather than one frozen in time to describe Liverpool's expanding port and townscape.
There is something remarkable about Cityscape. Liverpool is illuminated anew and it is a must-see for the people of Liverpool, who will find it peculiarly moving. That said, this is nothing new to the Johnson aficionado. The artist is good on places, as his World Panorama Series, which takes in Hong Kong (1997), Jerusalem (2000) and Zurich (2003), demonstrates.
"Why on earth has somebody wasted three years making something that could have been a photograph?" This is the question Johnson asks himself in an interview in the exhibition's catalogue. The answer could lie in the fact that although his paintings are full of detail and appear to be realistic, he does not see himself as a photorealist.
Johnson's cityscapes provoke discussion and civic pride in a way that a photograph perhaps couldn't. Much like the residents of Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Chicago and Zurich before them, lovers of Liverpool can feel a sense of involvement and inclusion in Johnson's achievement. Let the populating begin in earnest!
To 2 Nov (0151-478 4199; www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk)
Lee P Ruddin, student, London
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