Art Tate Liverpool saved my life.
In my memory my first visit to Tate Liverpool, and you’ll have to forgive me but it was twenty-five years ago, I was thirteen and most of anything which happened back then is submerged in a love of...
Art Tate Liverpool saved my life.
In my memory my first visit to Tate Liverpool, and you’ll have to forgive me but it was twenty-five years ago, I was thirteen and most of anything which happened back then is submerged in a love of Transformers and Kylie Minogue, but in my memory, I visited on its first weekend of opening. I remember it being very busy, I remember that much.
I remember laughing a lot. Boldly, Tate Liverpool’s opening exhibition was Surrealism In The Tate Gallery Collection, which as a statement of intent ranks with Lady Gaga turning up for an awards ceremony dressed in raw beef. My thirteen year old self, submerged in a love of Transformers and Kylie Minogue, thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen.
One of the pieces on display was Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree, a glass of water on a shelf above head height. Which was hilarious then and still is because as I now know, for reasons which later became apparent to me, the whole field of “conceptual art” is about challenging the viewer’s beliefs in the construct of the art world and themselves.
Did I innately understand that? No. What was hilarious then was that an artist was able to put the glass of water on the shelf, put it on that wall, have a card which says “An Oak Tree”, other stuff, and people would turn up to see it. Even as I type that, I can’t quite believe it despite now thinking it’s one of the greatest pieces of art ever ushered into reality, even if it must be a bugger for the technicians to keep clean.
How I got from one reason for finding An Oak Tree hilarious to the other reason I find An Oak Tree hilarious, is the reason Tate Liverpool, amongst other things, because there had to be a qualifier, because everything has a qualifier, saved my life. Perhaps this something which happens to everyone. Perhaps all of this is just part of growing up. Perhaps I’m just trying to find something to write.
What I do remember is never being very good at school. Apart from the bullying, apart from that, I wasn’t an especially academic kid and easily distracted, by Transformers and Kylie Minogue, and not easily able to retain information. All of this is still true. I’m not an especially academic adult really, still easily distracted by Doctor Who and the Spotify, and barely able to retain information.
But for the purposes of this story, let’s assume that in fact, I was a different person, that the premise of Michael Apted’s 7 Up series doesn’t apply to me. At the age of thirteen, when Tate Liverpool opened, another strong memory I have is of my parents returned from parents evening and telling me that the head of year, who didn’t even teach me, had said that “Stuart won’t amount to much.”
Which wasn’t an especially nice thing to say, but you should also know that the school I went to, an old style grammar school despite being classified as a comprehensive, not fee paying but selective, was very much geared towards producing Oxbridge candidates, the rest of us, no matter how had we’d worked to get there, sometimes felt like the flotsam and jetsam of humanity.
Not that I was old enough to really understand the implications of those words. I was thirteen and “not amounting to much” at that point didn’t really have a context. What I do know is that mum and dad weren’t worried, this wasn’t some moment when they thought I’d need a private tutor or anything like that. I just wasn’t academic. Not everyone is academic.
Meanwhile, school continued. My grades, when I’m finally graded, which wasn’t something which happened then as often as it does now, are minimal. When I’m “setted”, I’m in the fourth set for French, fourth for Maths. I simply couldn’t learn. I remember working really, really hard sometimes, but not being able to retain anything. This now looks like something diagnosable but not then. It wasn't then.
But one of the constants was art class. I wasn’t very good at that either. I certainl