Liverpool forges its own visual identity with Biennial
The Tate’s contribution is drawn from its own collection and given its own title, Thresholds. With excellent work by Sophie Calle, Keith Arnatt, William Kentridge, Mark Wallinger and more it makes a very convincing show. Yael Bartana’s film about a bizarre four-wheel drive competition near Tel Aviv is a great allegory.
Beyond such conventional venues as the Tate and the Bluecoat, the exhibition takes over the huge Cunard building down on the waterfront in which Superflex (a three-person, Copenhagen-based group) have cheekily plastered the interior with facsimiles of some of the numerous “To Let” signs visible throughout the city.
From there it’s a hike up to the LJMU Copperas Hill building, a gargantuan ex-industrial space that houses another component show, City States, comprising separate exhibitions from 13 cities, from Birmingham to Hong Kong. It’s a mixed bag but there’s much to linger over, including Dagestan-born Taus Makhacheva’s video installations Topography of Masculinity.
Another storey of the LJMU building, once a Royal Mail sorting office, houses the Bloomberg New Contemporaries, the showcase for recent art graduates. Not so much houses, in fact, as overwhelms. It’s not that the work is bad, but en masse it does have the feeling of a student show, and a relatively low-key one.
In a slightly ramshackle context, even if it’s deliberately ramshackle, something like Jackson Sprague’s beautifully poised paintings and sculptures really stand out. It is hardly surprising that his Royal College of Art degree show sold out.
A smattering of Irish artists feature in the John Moores Painting Prize Exhibition at the Walker Gallery but it is, alas, a fairly dispiriting show that fails to come to life. The overall prizewinner, Sarah Pickstone, is a better artist than her winning painting suggests, and a great deal of what’s on view looks tired and not just derivative but positively superficial. The five-member, high-powered judging panel was perhaps just too big and diverse and it’s hard to see how the chair, Alan Yentob, could describe the experience as “exhilarating”. The sprinkling of good work is mostly drowned out in the crowded spaces.
There are claims that the biennial brings more than half a million visitors and is worth more than £25 million to the local economy over its three-month running time.
Liverpool isn’t London and Tallant has rightly decided not to pretend that it is, instead going for a grittier, semi-alternative texture and ethos. Will it work? Building the profile of a biennial is a long, difficult process. The 2012 Biennial won’t clinch the deal, but it shows there are possibilities.
Liverpool Biennial 2012, Bloomberg New Contemporaries and the John Moores Painting Prize 2012 at the Bluecoat, Tate Liverpool, the Cunard Building, LJMU (Liverpool John Moores University) Copperas Hill Building, the Walker Art Gallery and other venues until November 25th. biennial.com