A generation ago, Liverpool’s Albert Dock looked very different. Now, standing on the edge of the waterfront, casting your eye across the famous red pillars, the gentle water of the docks and bustling bars and restaurants, it’s easy to forget that 30 years ago, there was no hub for tourists or a fancy night out.

One of the major ingredients for the transformation of the Albert Dock was the launch of Tate Liverpool. Designed to display work from the Tate Collection, comprising of modern art from the last 500 years, it added to the city’s family of museums and art galleries. In 2018, Tate Liverpool is 30, here we look at what it’s got planned for its birthday year, and reflect on some of the exhibitions it has displayed in the past generation.


Since it opened its doors in 1988, one man has been a constant presence at the Albert Dock gallery. Ken Simons is Tate Liverpool’s Art Handling Manager. For 2018 he will select the works of 30 artists from the Tate Collection, his own personal review of Tate Liverpool’s 30 years in the city.

Ken’s Show: Exploring the Unseen will include some of his favourite artworks he has installed in the galleries. He’s particularly interested in sculptural and landscape art, sothe works will reflect that. Light Red Over Black 1957 by Mark Rothko will feature, which was exhibited in the first year of Tate Liverpool’s tenure. Phillip King’s large sculpture, Within 1978-9, exhibited in 1998 wil sit alongside works by artists including J.M.W Turner, Barbara Hepworth and Piet Mondrian.

1988; Mark Rothko

1988 - Mark Rothko 


It’s a very personal show, but it also taps into one of the particular strengths of Tate Liverpool; it’s history in the city is often perceived very personally. People remember elements of the past 30 years by weaving through exhibitions they remember at Tate; Rothko in 1988, Francis Bacon in 1990, Lucian Freud in 1992, Dali in 1998, Mark Wallinger in 2000, Marc Quinn in 2002. The gallery that launched a thousand school trips, welcoming wide eyed children from across the city region who would experience their first sightings of the greatest works of modern and contemporary art in their hometown, who would see Pollocks and Hepworths, and learn that they could have opinions on art and artists just like any famous critic, is now the most visited museum and contemporary art gallery outside of London. 15 million visitors have seen the work hung by Ken Simons. As we, as audiences were learning about contemporary art, so was Ken. “It is through this handson interaction, he says, and curating this show that I learnt and understood much more about artists’ exploration of space”.

1998; Salvador Dali, A Mythology 


The ground-breaking exhibitions Ken has installed have been legend. In 2018, Tate Liverpool will opens its doors on its 30th birthday year exhibiting work by the same artist it did 25 years ago. In 1993, Frank Whitford wrote in the The Sunday Times that “Lichtenstein an artist of his time, an exemplary post-modernist for whom the past only has the meaning he cares to give it, and any notion of worth or quality is constantly renegotiable ... is work is enormously significant as an expression of current cultural concerns. What strike us now as visually compelling and intellectually intriguing paintings will probably seem 100 years on to be persuasive evidence of the crisis of identity in which we find ourselves.”

25 years can pass and a great artist remains relevant, remains significant and important. Lichtenstein’s work in 2018 will still encourage us to think of thoughtless commercialism, as we belch away Christmas. Our crisis of identity, which we felt 25 years ago still feels as fresh and raw as our 2017 crisis feels. This is the power of art.

In the same year, 1993, Gilbert & George's exhibition The Cosmological Pictures, arrived at Tate Liverpool. In the previous two years it had toured ten different European museums. That Liverpool was one of the cities was an important step in the perception of Liverpool in the contemporary art world. Later that year the galleries would house works by Antony Gormley and David Hockney. The following year the gallery welcomed a major retrospective of Barbara Hepworth.

Yet Tate Liverpool has not solely been the preserve of work by artists from around the world, or those leaving the famed gold cobbled streets of London for the north. The gallery also provided a platform for the groundswell of contemporary artists within the city. Video Positive, the International Video Festival, organised by Moviola, launched in 1991. Festival Director Eddie Berg, who would go on to found FACT (15 in 2018) installed work in six venues around the city centre. The festival and launched in 1989 and now, two years later, here it was at Tate Liverpool, rubbing shoulders with Degas and Turner.

#bluesky #sunshine #liverpool #spotthedifference #happyfriday

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Video was a new platform for artists and this was a ground-breaking festival. Tate Liverpool’s involvement as a host emphasised its place within the city’s artworld and art life. Video Positive, which would, in a way, evolve in Liverpool Biennial less than a decade later, was art at the cutting edge. At Tate Liverpool, works included David Hall’s video installation, A Situation Envisaged: The Rite II (Cultural Eclipse), Lynn Hershman Leeson’s America’s Finest in Video Positive 95 and Lei Cox’s Skies over Flowerfield the same year.

A year after hosting Leeson and Cox, Tate Liverpool asked artist Mark Wallinger, curator Maria de Corral and the editor of The Burlington Magazine Richard Shone, to select the most important works by art students and recent graduates from over 1500 submissions. New Contemporaries provided valuable insight into the practice of Britain’s youngest artists.

From Arttranspenning 98 to Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool continued (and continues) to provide a northern platform for local, regional, national and international art.

Alongside artists, Tate Liverpool has used the walls of its gallery to explore ideas. From childhood (Primary Vision: Art and the Rediscovery of Childhood, 2001) to pop culture (Remix: Contemporary Art and Pop, 2002) shopping (Shopping: A Century of Art and Consumer Culture, 2002) Tate Liverpool’s curators took the world around them, folded it through the prism of contemporary art and their own experience and offered it to the city for a fresh perspective.

It explored a variety of media like clay (A Secret History of Clay: From Gaugin to Gormley, 2004) and sketching (The Stage of Drawing: Gesture and Art, 2003) Tate Liverpool provided an opportunity to explore the history of contemporary art, as educator as well as exhibitor.


As the city reflects on its year as European Capital of Culture in 2018, turning back the dial ten years, it’s worth looking even further back and reflecting on how the city’s museums and galleries have played the vital role of opening our eyes to contemporary art. Happy birthday, Tate Liverpool.

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