Liverpool Biennial 2018:
Press Launch.

Art Good evening or rather morning since due to the usual embargo this isn't going to be posted until after 10pm tomorrow, after you've heard about Taco Bell. Probably around lunch time, just in case. Keep that in mind as we head into the thicket of tenses. This morning (see what I mean) offered the press launch of this year's Liverpool Biennial in the auspicious location of the Liverpool Playhouse.  These launches usually occasion in one of the forthcoming venues. 2014's was in the Old Blind School, 2012 at the Cunard Building.  I apparently missed out in 2016 - I expect I was working.  Either way, it made a change to be somewhere with proper seating rather than stackables and yes, indeed, the Playhouse is a venue this year.

Getting there wasn't uneventful.  For the past year I've pretty much walked everywhere but can never quite judge what's feasible or how long it'll take.  Sefton Park to the vicinity of the Playhouse is nearly fifty minutes but I was surprised to discover that it wasn't that great an effort.  I'm getting even fitter.  Eating Subway salads (no cheese or sauce) for lunch every day and drinking skimmed milk is probably helping too.  Even so, being on the pavement for that long meant I needed to toilet once I reached town and as most of us probably do, I took advantage of the facilities in the Met Quarter.  Until the fire alarm went off and I found myself trying to finish off with all alarms blaring and someone banging on the door.  It's still standing.  Probably a false alarm.

Somehow managed not to be the first person at the launch.  Met a couple of people I knew, recognised a few faces, but didn't really mingle.  Every now and then my anxiety disorder tips over into being a social anxiety disorder and so I sat and ate the cold croissants we'd been provided and sipped some water, decaff options for tea and coffee not having been provided.  I think I'm going to have to start carrying my own.  My wallet's big enough (literally, it's left a square wear mark on the outside of my jeans).  It just feels so austentatious, as though I'm trying to draw attention to myself.  I'm already the person to has some metal cutlery jangling about in his bag just in case.  But needs must.

Here's the explanation for this year's Biennial title from the press pack.
"The title for Beautiful world, where are you? derives from a 1788 poem by the German poet Friedrich Schiller, set to music by Austrian composer Franz Schubert in 1819. The years between the composition of Schiller’s poem and Schubert’s song saw great upheaval and profound change in Europe, from the French Revolution to the fall of the Napoleonic Empire. Today, the poem continues to reflect a world gripped by deep uncertainty. It can be seen as a lament but also as an invitation to reconsider our past, advancing a new sense of beauty that can be shared in a more equitable way."
Here's a link to the whole poem although it seems to be a different translation to the one for which the title of Biennial has developed.  Either way, as is often best on this occasion it feels loose enough to encompass whatever mayhem will be spread across the various venues chosen for this year, revealed to us on the massive screen shown above.  The usual suspects plus RIBA North, the Playhouse, Blackburne House and the Victoria Gallery & Museum.

Although it's difficult to tell at this early stage, the most interesting strand seems to the invites to indigenous peoples from across the world, many of whom seem to comment on commerce and possessions and how their belief systems fit into the modern world.  This also feeds into a decision to utilise the National Museum Liverpool collections, at the Walker and World Museum, finding works which fit within the theme and interact with other works due to be on display.

But the undoubted coup of this year's Biennial is the participation of Agnes Varda, only recently in Hollywood attending the Oscars having picked up an honorary fellowship.  Initially, I'd thought this would amount to resurrecting some old pieces, but she's participating fully developing new works especially for FACT and we were treated to an interview piece in which she giddily talked about the Biennial theme and the kinds of work she's going to be bringing.

Which is my take away from the launch.  In the past few Biennial, one of my disappointments has been the lack of new work in some venues, not seeing artists reacting specifically to Liverpool as much as was the case in the oughts.  But there seems to be more site specific work in the offering here and selecting work to fit the venue rather than the venue simply housing some stuff which could just as well be anywhere.  Fingers crossed.

The Liverpool Biennial's own website has more about the proposed programme here, with all of the artists, locations and other business.

Franchise Wars.

Food Yes, indeed, Liverpool is finally going to have a Taco Bell, which is opening at the bottom of Bold Street. For years the only frame of reference I had for Taco Bell was as a joke in Demolition Man which was deemed so obscure for international audiences that it was poorly ADRed to Pizza Hut in some versions:

The QuoDB offers dozens of other movie references and the general mood seems to be positive. Now I'll finally have a chance to fill in that gap in my knowledge of Americana.

Slow Tourism.

Art  How long do you usually spend visiting art galleries?  The pace with which I'm able to feel like I've confidently seen a collection has reduced as I've aged to the point that it's become impossible for me to see a venue without multiple visits.  If I'm in the right mood I can confidently spend days returning to the same collection and even then I never quite feel like I've given the work justice.  For that project, it took at least two days for me to see the Walker Art Gallery and even then I felt like I rushed around.  The best paintings demand that you spend time over them, teasing out their mimetic qualities over the long term. 

Which is why when in deciding to revisit the National Gallery after what must be a couple of decades, the notion that I might be able to see the place in a couple of days was fanciful at best.  This is one of the most important art collections in the world, every painting of either national or international importance.  There isn't any filler, and although there are leaflets available highlighting the eighty or some most sought after works, from what I've seen so far, that's like selecting some choice phrases from Shakespeare's canon.  Even at some of the my favourite other galleries, the quality just isn't this high.

And so, after talking an hour tottering about the first room of the Sainsbury Wing, I surrendered to the fact that I might well be spending the rest of the year not visiting London once a month, but rather the National Gallery.  If you'd told the younger version of me that his mid-life crisis incarnation would spend two hours just looking at various interpretations of the Madonna and Child and crucifixion, he'd probably wonder if Joey and Pacey would really spend the rest of their lives together finally having told Dawson to go away.  Even fifteen years ago I probably would have found the notion entirely tedious.  Not now.

Judging by the floorplan, I managed to see rooms 51, 58, 59, 60 and 66, although the wing is in flux with room closures, some of which don't seem to have been corrected on the online map.  Perhaps I did only see five rooms, but it feels like more.  One of the reasons I took my time, it took so long, was because I decided to listen to all of the audio explanations were available and nearly every item has a description or explanation read by a voice which sounds almost but not exactly like someone notable.  One of them may be Michael Sheen.  I think another could have been in Doctor Who.  There's apparently about fifty hours of this material.

Other than re-invigorating my interest in the history of art, what specifically did I draw from the visit?  That my new favourite artist is Carlo Crivelli, the Venetian painter from the 1450s.  His subject matter tends to be biblical, as was the mode of the time, but his style feels entirely like that of a high end comic book artist, bold lines with detailed colouring, with exquisitely graphic rather than attempted photo-realistic representations of the people (note he was a contemporary of Leonardo).  This Pridella is typical,   Zoom in and notice the detailing of the landscape, the walls and grass, like a book illustration.  But this all happened on egg tempera.

Meanwhile that what we venerate now as masterpieces of world art amounted to nothing more than expensive furniture, literally in the case of Botticelli's Venus and Mars which was either a headboard or the back board of day chest.  That it survived this long, this intact is a miracle, and probably had a lot to do with the habit in later centuries of hacking furniture apart and selling off the good bits.  Apparently there'll be more Botticelli on display when some of the galleries re-open in April after the refit.  I suspect I won't be leaving the Sainsbury wing any time soon.  On the days I'm in London at least.