The Tate gallery is one of those places that you hear about regularly, but may not have actually ever been to. Why? Perhaps you have just never had the time, or the energy, or the real desire to walk around a gallery. After all, museums and galleries were the dullest trips at school, right? However, the Tate is different – first and foremost it is a free gallery (something any student can appreciate the value of) and it showcases a vast variety of artists, old and new, subjectively good and bad, ensuring that it always has something interesting to offer the visitor. As a newcomer to this cultural city, I can guarantee that it will be time very well spent. The atmosphere in the building differs greatly from the more traditional galleries that I have visited since being in Liverpool. In amidst the Docks, sitting just outside the centre of town the Tate is beautifully situated; with wonderful views and quaint little stalls outside, it offers plenty to fill a whole day out.
One of the Tate’s latest exhibitions is that displaying two highly contrasting artists; Tracey Emin, producing modern, ‘rough and ready’, yet utterly astonishing work and the other; William Blake, a world famous Romantic poet and artist, renowned for his rebelliousness and idiosyncrasies, essentially being prophetic and way ahead of his time. That time was, however, the early 19th century. A time of revolution, it may well have been, but his religious themed pieces and the social critique held within much of his work in my opinion certainly pales in terms of the stark taboo matter of Emin’s work, inspired by the radicalism of the daring 1960s and 70s; the era that Emin grew up in, and would essentially influence her later works, of which “My Bed” is one of the most famous. Yes, the two artists may share their London heritage, but really, it is difficult for me to see where the other supposed ‘similarities’ are. Perhaps this is why the exhibition came across to me as a mismatch of creativity, a juxtaposition of everything that each of these artists stood for, as Emin expresses the absence of a presence through her work, whereas Blake was a notable explorer of the potential that art offered to experience a new chance and life; essentially, rebirth through the medium of art.
The overall layout of the exhibition is quite intriguing in itself. There are three distinct sections, separated by inner walls, with the colours changing, based on the main artist. Tracey Emin is clearly a vibrant character and her “My Bed” piece sits proudly in the centre of a crimson red, yet dimly lit room. With a biography of her life so far hidden on the back wall, only visible for those who walk around the whole room, this gallery appears to be in favour of her counterpart, William Blake. His work, including “The Crucifixion: Behold Thy Mother”, adorns the regal indigo walls, acting as a sign of high respect and admiration of the 259-year old’s iconic pieces, but such differentiating décor helps to add context to the exhibition, which stands in stark contrast to the harsh white walls of the other rooms in the Tate. Although Emin’s work is very literally, the centrepiece of this exhibition, the unspoken favour still lies with Blake’s work, it appears to me. Using only blue and red, despite the three ‘sections’, adds to the perception that Blake holds a greater importance, as the blue makes up two of these three areas, compared to Emin’s one of red. Each end section contains the work of both artists and there appears to be an attempt to link and emphasise the connection that sits between these artists, but unfortunately to me, they seem to be too different in styles and deeper meanings meaning that this is simply not achievable.
Perhaps what is most poignant about the exhibition, and certainly what struck me the most, was the hesitancy of the visitors of the exhibition. The only audible noises were the over exuberant children, blissfully unaware of the adults’ expectation of ‘gallery conduct’ which is more of an explicit display than the artwork itself. Their not-so-discreet murmuring and mumbling hid their truest opinions, keeping the secrets that the dimmed light and lonely corners seem to protect. The older visitors meanwhile, conduct themselves in a notably courteous manner whilst the younger, more rebellious teenagers yearn for more, seek out more excitement, as some may conceive as predictable, in a place that is often stereotyped as dull and boring. Electronically alarmed floor boundaries surround only Emin’s three-dimensional display of her bed; the invisible guard of her masterpiece. So it came as no surprise to witness the disappointment unmask the teenage girls’ innocent pretences, as they failed to do what an eager, young, rogue toddler did; cross the said boundary and set off the well, somewhat alarming, alarm. Safe to say, the secretive murmuring and blissful ignorance stopped, and dissipated into a shocked, intrigued, yet rather hesitant excited silence.
In all, I personally found much of the artistry on display fairly difficult to access as a whole exhibition, but individual pieces offer a much more understandable meaning. This unique collection holds so many secrets, yet has the juxtaposing ability to tell so many tales. I can say, however, that the exhibition is certainly thought-provoking and confrontational, just as the artists themselves would have wished it to be. I encourage anyone to visit this incredibly surprising display and draw their own conclusions about what it has to offer. After all, it is free, and what better way to escape the fast approaching cold winter winds?