DP Arts: A Brief History of Art; Lew Baxter Meets the Man Behind the Tate's Biggest Exhibition to Date, Which Chronicles the 20th Century

Article excerpt

Byline: Lew Baxter

AFTER only joining Tate Liverpool as head of exhibitions six months ago, Simon Groom never really expected to find himself embroiled in the euphoria evinced by the city capturing that coveted European Capital of Culture crown. Instead he is at the forefront of confirming that the status is well deserved.

The unveiling, tomorrow, of what is arguably the gallery's most expansive exhibition to date, focusing on 20th century international modern art, will once more put the focus very firmly on the city and its cultural zeitgeist. Simon insists it wasn't part of any great design to fit into the successful bid - for how could he and his team have guessed the result when the ideas where first mooted a year or so back. But the exhibition, which will run on an evolving basis through to the middle of 2005, is hardly afluke,he hopes.

It is a representation of the century in six distinct modules,he reveals,culled from all four of the Tate's UK sites; and he laughs that there is often a fight over the best pieces to show. ``In this caseLiverpool has come off pretty well,'' hedeclares.

``It is impossible to tell the whole story of 20th art in one go,as it doesn't flow from say cubism to surrealism through abstraction to political art in any linear way,'' explains Simon who reveals that althoughhe's spent most of his life in the south,he is originally from this locale.

``It is an amazing time to come back and be involved in this long-term exhibition whose dynamic will - and this is very important - be continually changing ever six to eight months,'' he says.

It is in the form of a very loose chronology, explains Simon, but the subject has such abroad scope that the exhibition, for all its vast encompassing range, is merely one view of art over that century.

``By keeping it fluid through changing one element regularly we a renot trying to pull the wool over people eyes by saying this is the history of 20th century art per se. It is just one representation, one strand,'' he points out.

Even so, what he and a team of three curators backed up by other staff has achieved at Tate Liverpool - the largest gallery space out of London - is pretty impressive and influential in both scope and presentation.

It tells the story of art in five particular historical perspectives from 1905 through to the end of the 1970s when new streams of thought invoked the use of land in conceptualart.

``Artists then began to consider the body within a landscape and this was associated to an Italian movement that was persuaded to use everyday materials such as wool, wood, water and clay; matter they used to put things together in anew way,'' comments Simon.

HE EXPLAINS that the human body - and largely the female form - is a common thread that pervades throughout the show as it zooms in on particular impressions and perceptions across the 20th century.

``In our post-First World War period through to 1930 - in what was called `the return to order' after the degradation of that conflict - artists began to console themselves with harmonious forms and colour again. Almost a return to a Greek or classicalideal,'' says Simon, clearly himself quite taken with the breathtaking panorama that the 110 works of art involved in the first incarnation offer. …