Exchanges: Exhibition Review

Exchanges at Whitworth Art Gallery

So I don’t normally start a review with the exhibition synopsis, but this time, I think it’s important.

‘Works by Gillian Wearing, William Hogarth and Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin encourage dialogue about expectations of female behavior. Rebecca Warren and Hayley Tompkins elevate discarded objects to the status of art and challenge our ideas about what should be shown in museums. While Simon Patterson, Jitish Kallat, Roni Horn and Stephen Willats consider how we make order out of a disordered world. Over the next year some of this art will be exchanged for our most recent acquisitions activating new dialogues between the works displayed.’

This is why it is important for me to add that in early, because by the time you read this, the work may have changed and totally outdated this review. The fact that the art work changes throughout the exhibition is a new concept to me, and a strange one. There’s no timetable, no rota, what if I write about something and in a couple of weeks it’s gone? What if I have seen something and want to go back and view it again? I can’t. Are some of the pieces permanent and there of the full duration? Is it even the same exhibition if nothing is the same from start to finish? I just don’t know how I feel about random pieces of work, together in one room, constantly changing. But in the words of Tupac – That’s just the way it is. Things will never be the same.

Overall I enjoyed the exhibition and have taken a lot from individual pieces, however, some things just didn’t quite work. With the artwork changing, pieces don’t seem to correlate together. It’s a mixed bag of work with no combining theme. So, with that in mind, looking at the artwork as singulars, let’s talk about my favourite work of the exhibition.

The collaborative work between Louise Bourgeious and Tracy Emin, two pieces named ‘Too Much Love’ and ‘I Just Died at Birth,’ really grabbed my attention. In ‘Too Much Love’ you can see a painting of a figure, with an erection, in a deep red colour, almost like fresh blood. The blood colour really helps emphasise that emotion of love, it’s rich, deep, thick and runs through the heart. The words ‘Too Much Love’ are almost hidden within the work, like veins, they are written along the lines of the body. What made me feel a little uncomfortable was the scratchy, child-like drawing of another figure that seems to be cuddling the penis. It is like this figure is fond of the phallus. Overall, I was fascinated by the drawing, even though it is creepy and a little disturbing.

The second piece, ‘I Just Died at Birth’ was another drawing of a human-like figure but this time, instead of the deep red colour, the body is filled with text. Reading this text was a little difficult, both in terms of how the text is written and what the words say. Some of the letters are the wrong way round, written in a scratchy font and all in capital letters. The text is child-like, yet the words are very adult and extremely powerful. The whole piece is created from an unborn child’s point of view and uses very emotive language. The work describes the emotions of the baby experiencing birth, as it is leaving the warmth and comfort of the mother’s womb, leaving to be born. Sentences within the piece include ‘Now I know how little I was wanted’ and ‘I had just invaded your soul.’ The baby is confused and deeply angry at the fact the mother is forcing it out of it’s safe place, out into the unknown, it’s being rejected from the body.

One piece of work I felt definitely didn’t ‘fit’ within this exhibition was Paul Cezanne’s ‘The Bathers’. The two drawings are kind of like a before and after of each other, almost Blue Peter style – ‘here’s one I made earlier.’ On the left, the image is in soft pencil, a light drawing. On the right, the same drawing, now rich in shading and colour. Without the shading, it isn’t easy to tell what is going on, there is no depth and definition (wow, I can’t believe I just said that about one of arts greats!) Yet when you add colour, the drawing and the people come alive. This one piece definitely feels out-of-place. It’s a classical piece, a drawing, in the midst of modern and contemporary art. You look to the left of the work and you see an ensemble of strange items including a hammer and a shirt sleeve. You look right, and you see neon lights glaring from a perspex box. It’s lost in the modernity of everything else.

Stephen Willats, ‘In Relationship to Another’ is a great photography and collage piece. In the middle of the board is an image of an inner-city tower block. This tower block is surrounded by black and white photographs of people, painted squares of colour, and strong, black lines linking it altogether. Based on the images, Willats has chosen words to describe the people and the situation, giving them an action – PERSUASION being my favourite. The work is like a graph created from a survey. The colours represent one type of person, the arrows show how this person links to that person etc. The whole piece reminds me of how we are monitored, registered, we’re all a statistic, being watched all the time. We do this personally too, we see people on the street, we judge, we assume we know people, what ‘group’ they fit into. This work is a reflection of that.

There is so much to take from this exhibition, some really strong and moving individual pieces. I emphasise the individual as together, this exhibition doesn’t flow. But does flow matter if things are going to change tomorrow, next week, next month? It’s a little naughty of Whitworth I think, it forces you to go back, to see it again. Maybe in a few months (the exhibition is on till April so I have loads of time) I will go back and write a follow-up piece, a ‘what’s changed’ review. But if it’s all the same, as I don’t know how often the work changes, then it’ll be a waste of time. I take that back, going to any gallery is never a waste of time. I just feel very uneasy with this exhibition, no one really likes change, especially when you need to write about it!

Exchanges is on at Whitworth Art Gallery from 24th March 2018 until April 2019.

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