16 Aug 2017

Visit to The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, to see the exhibition ‘Coming Out:
Sexuality, Gender and Identity’

It’s a rainy Thursday morning and I’m racing to get the coach to Liverpool! I’m in great company with some of our museum staff and members of two LGBT groups we have been working with – Unmuted and Ageing Better. We’re off to see the first incarnation of a wonderful exhibition called 'Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender and Identity' and I have been working on the Birmingham showing of this exhibition when it opens in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s Gas Hall on December 2nd. 

It is also a very poignant day because Thursday July 27th 2017 marks exactly 50 years since the partial de-criminalisation of male homosexual acts in England and Wales (The Sexual Offences Act, 1967). There is an air of excitement and anticipation on the coach as we battle traffic and rain to get to Liverpool. 

The exhibition has been conceived by National Museums Liverpool, in partnership with Birmingham Museums Trust as part of the Arts Council Collection National Partners Programme 2016-19 . You may have seen some of the other exhibitions as part of this programme in the Gas Hall such as the fantastic ‘Night in the Museum’ curated by leading British artist Ryan Gander, 'I Want! I Want! Art and Technology'  and 'Totality'  at Thinktank Science Museum (both currently on display until October 1st). 

The group arrive at the outside the Walker Gallery

On arrival we are greeted by the super Walker Art Gallery team and given a tour of the exhibition by Curator of British Art, Charlotte Keenan. The artworks are powerful, resonant and timely – each one demonstrating how artists since 1967 have explored the themes of sexuality, gender and identity in their work. 

The group inside the Coming Out exhibition.

I was struck by many of the artworks, stopping to watch films I hadn’t seen in a long time such as Steve McQueen’s silent and powerful film ‘Bear’ featuring the artist himself and Isaac Julien’s ‘The Long Road to Mazatlan’ – a stunning film that explores the myth of the cowboy, outcast and pioneer. Influenced by Andy Warhol’s film ‘Cowboys’ and those including James Dean, the sparkling blues of the swimming pool sequences recall paintings by David Hockney, whilst the jerky dancing and choreography of Javier de Frutos and Philippe Riera represent moments of repression. I watched it twice, immersed in the sequences, narrative and music. 

Steve McQueen, Bear, 1993. Image courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery London, and Marian Goodman Gallery New York, Paris and London
Steve McQueen, Bear, 1993. Image courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery London, and Marian Goodman Gallery New York, Paris and London.

As a female with an avid interest and knowledge of feminist art, it was wonderful to see powerful works by women artists such as Margaret Harrison’s ‘Women of the World Unite, you have nothing to lose but Cheesecake’ made in 1969. We will be including two more of Harrison’s works in Birmingham’s show as well as new loans by Sarah Lucas such as her striking and humorous sculpture ‘Willy’ – a garden gnome made of cigarettes. Fantastic! 

Sarah Lucas artworks in the Coming Out exhibition
Three Sarah Lucas artworks on display in the Exhibition. Artworks from the 'Self-Portait Series', 1990-89 including Divine, Self Portrait with Fried Eggs and Self Portrait with a mug of tea.

Talking to the members of Unmuted and Ageing Better over tea and macarons provided incredibly insightful feedback, and their thoughts will help me to further develop the layout and display of the exhibition at Birmingham where we will be including some incredible new loans which visitors will only be able to see here in Birmingham. Very exciting! 

Thank you and congratulations to the Liverpool team and thank you to everyone that attended. Tune into this blog to hear about the development of the show and our events and engagement programme as we get nearer to the opening on December 2nd.

coming out visit.jpg
A still from ‘I Want’, 2015, Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz ©the artist