On Course for Culture; Laura Davis Looks at Some Challenging New Programmes to Promote a Greater Awareness of Modern Art
Byline: Laura Davis
IT'S sometimes hard to tell what is art and what is not when you're wandering through Tate Liverpool. A pair of ladders stand next to a wooden partition - a new installation perhaps? A comment on the human impulse to climb to new heights placed in the gallery's bright foyer next to a clearly recognisable Rodin sculpture?
More likely it's just some repair work being done, but then again this is the gallery that opened 20 years ago with a pile of bricks as one of its star exhibits.
In 2006, when Portuguese activist Rigo 23 surrounded the stone lions on guard at St Georges Hall in metal cages for the Liverpool Biennial arts festival, people were heard on several separate occasions commenting on the city's new anti-vandalism scheme.
That's the problem with modern art - viewing it can be a nerve-wracking experience; there is always a risk that you will accidentally show yourself up.
So while artists create works to be discussed, challenging people's mind-sets and inspiring them to form opinions, talking loudly in a hushed gallery tends to be as radical as clearing your throat in a library.
Yet an enforced silence is the last thing the people who run Liverpool's arts organisations say they want. They feel Capital of Culture year should be about everyone engaging with the exhibitions on offer and not being afraid to respond to it, even if that means dismissing a work as a load of rubbish.
That's why, among the festivals, performances, world premieres, talks and showcases in the 2008 programme, there are lots of courses designed to tempt us to learn a bit more about what we're seeing.
Tate Liverpool's "Review: Exploring 20thcentury art" programme starts today, and is open to all adults, no matter how much or how little they already know about the subject. It ties into the current exhibition of key works from the Tate's national collection, many of which have never been displayed before in the North West.
"Anyone is welcome, but it tends to mainly be young professionals, doctors, people who have full-time work," says Jean Tormey, curator of public programmes.
"The oldest woman we have on the course is in her early 60s, but we also have people from their early 20s and students who want to study from a different perspective.
"People see it as a social outlet and come along to meet people as well as to learn something, so we try to encourage a lot of group discussion. When they arrive, there is tea in the cafe and a lot of people go for a drink at the end."
The two-hour evening sessions are broken into two parts - the first is an introduction by a Tate curator, the second is spent in smaller groups and takes place inside the galleries next to the artworks under discussion.
"We don't tell people 'this is the story', we have debates and encourage people to exchange with each other and challenge each other," says Jean, who is from Dublin and spent a year working in New York before moving to Liverpool two years ago. …