Magazine article The Spectator

Merseyside Invasion

Magazine article The Spectator

Merseyside Invasion

Article excerpt

Exhibitions 3

Merseyside invasion

Liverpool Biennial

Until 28 November

If the arts are news, they are also tourism, as the current boom in biennials testifies. The latest issue of the Royal Academy magazine, under the heading 'Biennale Bonanza', lists no fewer than five taking place this autumn: in Santa Fe, Sao Paolo, Seville, Gwangju and Venice (Architecture), and that's omitting the one happening on our doorstep, the third Liverpool Biennial.

In a dress rehearsal for Liverpool's star turn as European Capital of Culture 2008, its cultural commissars have gone to town, commissioning an international brigade of 40 artists to make new works relating to the city. By Venice standards, of course, 40 artists are thin on the ground, so numbers have been made up to 450 by the inclusion under the Biennial umbrella of the John Moores and Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibitions, along with a motley crew of 'independents' pitching their tents in 50 venues around the city.

On the eve of the opening, the Liverpudlians seemed to be taking this invasion rather too calmly. The giant inflatable blossoms by Choi Jeong Hwa greeting arrivals at Lime Street Station alternately tumescent and detumescent, like hyperventilating Little Weeds were attracting about as much attention from the locals as BR hanging baskets of plastic flowers. But in his welcome speech to the press at the Adelphi, Biennial supremo Lewis Biggs assured us warmly that the excitement in the city was palpable. To add to it, we were each issued with a carrier bag with a blown-up photo of a breast on one side and a fanny on the other, advertising Yoko Ono's Biennial project 'My Mummy Was Beautiful'. Which side to choose? I left mine in reception.

First to the Walker for the John Moores 23 exhibition of contemporary painting, open to all artists working in the UK. This year's selection seemed to be dominated by three current trends, for obsessive pattern-making, surreal 'bedroom' painting and cheerless realism. The judges awarded first prize to Alexis Harding for 'Slump/Fear (orange/black)', a messy outburst against the pattern-making impulse, spoiling a surface of perfect checks with an ugly tear.

No time, sadly, to take in the permanent collection before it was off to sample the first of the internationals at Bluecoat Arts Centre, decked out in a banner bearing the Yoko breast. Here, Wong Hoy Cheong has stuck closely to the local brief in a multi-channel DVD projection, 'Trigger', recalling singing cowboy Roy Rogers's famous stay at the Adelphi in 1954, when he was visited by his horse while in bed with flu. The dizzying views of tilting corridors and swirling carpets filmed by cameras mounted on a latterday Trigger will doubtless resonate for contemporary hotel guests who have ever had trouble finding their rooms in the early hours. Down the road at FACT - the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology - Yang Fudong's multiscreen video installation of doomed lovers on a beach, 'Close to the Sea', has less obvious ties to Liverpool, but is hauntingly beautiful.

Next stop was the so-called Independent District situated, according to our maps, off Jamaica Street - news to our taxi-driver, who showed a touching reluctance to drop us off in an industrial wasteland until sighting the oasis of a converted warehouse housing the Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2004. …

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