Apollo Magazine

First Look: ‘Keywords’ at Tate Liverpool

A look at the vocabulary of culture and society

The Bridge (1992), Willie Doherty © Willie Doherty. Image courtesy Tate

‘Keywords’ opens at Tate Liverpool this week. Curator Gavin Delahunty introduces the exhibition, which looks at how words and their shifting meanings can reflect wider changes in a society.

Click here for a gallery of images from the show

Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition?

‘Keywords’ is an exhibition based on Raymond Williams’ seminal book Keywords – A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. The book includes words such as, aesthetic, bureaucracy, equality and wealth that are considered in a series of short essays which give an account of each word’s use, its origin, and meanings.

What makes this a distinctive show?

One unique characteristic of the show has been its collaboration with artists Luca Frei and Will Holder who have painted the following keywords directly onto the gallery walls: Structural, Private, Folk, Violence, Criticism, Liberation, Formalist, Myth, Anthropology, Native, Materialism, Unconscious and Theory. The words can be read in a line running around the room or as individual captions that establish imperfect connections with the works, or as markers that suggest a series of themes.

How did you come to curate this exhibition?

Williams said that he often wished some other ‘form of presentation could be devised’ because the alphabetical list can suppress the way that words are embedded in social situations and belong to networks. His hope was that ‘other kinds of connections and comparisons’ would be made. We’ve proposed one such attempt by juxtaposing words from the book with works of art.

What is likely to be the highlight of the exhibition?

Highlights include Sunil Gupta’s London Gay Switchboard (1980); Lubaina Himid’s A Fashionable Marriage / Marriage à la Mode (1986) and Helen Chadwick’s Carcass (1986).

Click here for more curators’ First Looks…

And what’s been the most exciting personal discovery for you?

Working directly with the artists Stuart Brisley, Rose English and Anne Tallentire.

What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in preparing this exhibition?

One challenge has been working out, over the past six months, how to create Helen Chadwick’s artwork Carcass; a seven foot tall Perspex tower of decomposing foodstuff. This has been expertly managed by Ken Simons, Tate Liverpool’s Art Handling Manager.

How are you using the gallery space? What challenges will the hang/installation pose?

A unique aspect of the exhibition is its design which allows for all 2D work (painting, photography, works on paper) to be presented on a giant single wall and all 3D work (sculpture, installation) presented in one single uninterrupted area.

Which other works would you have liked to have included?

When preparing a show like this there are inevitably stones unturned but as we’ve been planning the show for almost two years we are extremely happy with the list of artists and works that we have included.

‘Keywords: Art, Culture and Society in 1980s Britain’ is at Tate Liverpool from 28 February–11 May.

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