If you’re expecting a detailed-ish account of the works which feature in this exhibition, well I don’t think I’m up to it! As the Tate’s Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making (to give it its full title) is a pretty exhaustive attempt to document the influence of left-wing politics on the arts. It also features many artist from a spread of two hundred years, so a lot to chew on.
The exhibition space itself is split into different sections which set out to address a single question relating to the overall theme. The questions go along the lines of ‘can art affect politics?’, what does interactivity mean? Can the art world be democratic? I’m not sure if these questions are answered within the exhibition, and of course looking for a definite answer in a art gallery might be a hiding to nowhere. Rather it works on a common gallery experience , that being you as viewer are given the information, given the thought processes and you can dentine the answer for yourself.
As a viewer you are given a lot of work to consider, and there was a point where I felt I was concentrating on the interpretation on the wall. No bad thing as that means I’m trying to engage with the exhibitions theme. Though it’s a bit of a task for me, I mean l’m still trying to figure out a lecture about the relationship between Marxist theory and a painting by Van Gogh of some boots from five years ago.
My lack of politic knowledge aside, I focus on the use of imagery from the simple, crude banners used by French protesters to some of more graphical pieces that distils highly complex ideas into a single image, making it universally assessable. I also recognise the drive to democratise art, or at lease free it from the confines of the dictates of the galleries and critics, which lead to the dematerialisation of the art object. A line that can be traced from the Dadaist through Fluxus, Conceptual Art and up to today.
There are also moments of unexpected beauty, one piece (sorry I didn’t take a note) is the record of a workers emotional state through there working year. One person’s emotional life carefully recorded as delicately painted blocks on graph paper. It’s has a strange effect its attempt to dispassionately make a record of a humans emotion state, somehow heightens the sense of the human within these great systems.
There’s something that might be missing, the human, the person, the individual. It sounds contradictory to say that these works which attempt to address the welfare of the individual lack a sense of the human; there is a strange paradox at the heart of the politic ideas that fuel many of the works. This paradox is evident in Palle Nielsen’s The Model, which part of a Stockholm gallery was given over to children, in the interpretation on the wall Nielsen talks about how he was surprised that the children failed to ‘use’ the materials in the way he would.
For me this point to an interesting point, no matter what system we attempt to put in place, whether that be socialism, Marxism or capitalism, it will probably fail or at the least go very wonky mainly because people are people, and will do what they want. So in a strange way this is what Art Turning Left is about people’s attempts to make perfect systems out of imperfect materials.
Of course you are free to make your own mind up, at Tate Liverpool until February the 2nd.