This weekend’s bit of culture was a visit to Tate Britain. Heading there to meet up with some WAY friends in order to see the Lowry Exhibit Heather, Gemma and I got there early to have a bit of a look around the main galleries.
The Tate is currently undergoing some work so we entered from the side entrance rather than from Millbank, rising up the stairs to the Duveen Galleries to be confronted by Simon Starling’s Phantom Ride. In the dark a giant screen displays a fly around of the very space one is standing in, accompanied by a low, hum like sound track. Objects from the Tate’s history appear, floating eerily, almost causing one to look around for them in the real space. Strangely, every time a child or baby cried somewhere in the gallery it seemed to fit seamlessly into the piece.
Moving away from that strangeness it was calming to walk through the displays of Henry Moore, particular liking the 1951 Reclining Figure plaster model. There were also a couple by Barbara Hepworth we liked (such as Pelagos).
As we wandered around more there was something of a Lowry preview to make us smile. I also enjoyed the calming 1932 (painting) by Ben Nicholson and, as usual, Equivalents for the Megaliths by Paul Nash.
That took us up to the meet up time and so a fair group of us gathered in the cafe for the main event, trundling down the queue into rooms crowded despite the timed ticket system (galleries always seem to slightly over subscribe what would otherwise be comfortable with these systems).
The first thing to note about the exhibition is that it is sizeable. Six good sized rooms, the walls lined with pieces almost exclusively by Lowry. By the end of room six it’s probably all becoming a bit much. To say Lowry has a certain style is an understatement, a look repeated in piece after piece. Nowhere is that steady vision more apparent than in two pictures hanging side by side (“People Going to Work” and “Returning From Work”). Both have a backdrop of the same gates, ostensibly with people either coming or alternatively going but in each heading the same way, with some figures almost copying directly across from one painting to the other in close facsimile. This repetitiveness means the most interesting room is possibly the one that isn’t all Lowry but contains other pieces of the time to compare and contrast too; I think a little more of that would have been nice.
Come the last room and one is almost drowning in the heaviness of his work. There is no escape in the details either. Industrial Landscape draws the eye to a funeral procession; the “accident” in the piece of that name is a woman’s suicide. Yet walking through the bleak landscapes I did feel a humanity. At times the only relief comes from Lowry’s figures, their brightness bringing a life and vitality to the bleak landscape around them (
a world from which vegetation had been banished; nothing existed except smoke, shale, ice, mud, ashes and foul water to take part of the Road to Wigan Pier quote which adorns one wall). In The Funeral has not one spot of colour other than the figures in the foreground, outside the graveyard, passing by the death and grimness of the world.
And there is the nub of it for me. While Lowry’s world is unrelentingly bleak his figures rarely are, except where that world has caught up with them. That world may be grey and grim at times but they, we, are not; and neither was Lowry.
Lowry done with I decided to take advantage of having made it across London on a rainy Sunday and have a bit more of a look around the remaining galleries. There was the usual eye bending of a Bridget Riley. There were a one or two more modern installations that caught the eye, notably Sarah Lucas’s Pauline Bunny and the strangeness of the Chapman Family Collection.
More classically The Girl at the Gate looked familiar for some reason. Photography also got noted, mainly some of Bill Brandt‘s works, including the very good Nude London, 1952 (good job Gemma didn’t see me looking at that!)
Then there was no time left, so off home again it was. Tate Modern is probably next.