They say the art of conversation’s dead. We have to disagree. Tate’s summer show is an exercise in eavesdropping every bit as captivating – and moving – as we’ve ever had in a gallery. And we’ve had our share.
It seems inconceivable now to have a summer without a sure-footed show from the Tate. Since Klimt (and probably before, if we could remember that far back) the Albert Dock storehouse of wonders has been resolutely keeping the city’s culture burning while our theatres and concert halls slumber.
But this summer’s show – Turner, Monet, Twombly, Later Paintings – is immaculately conceived: curation at its curious, intelligent and inventive best. Taken as a linear exploration of Western Art (which, it must be noted, the exhibition deftly avoids), the exhibition covers 250 years: from Turner’s radical romanticism through Monet’s emotional impressionism to Twombly’s romantic, kinetic symbolism. Experience them hugger mugger, and their affinities simply melt away the years as the venerable threesome simply talk to each other. It’s a wonderful revelation.
Bringing together the later works of three of the most celebrated painters of the time and jostling them together, mixing them up and juxtaposing the bejesus out of them not only lets us appreciate each anew, but informs us, afresh, of the continual conversation, through the ages, between the art world’s greatest.
Of course, this is a blockbuster destined to bring thousands to our city for a chance to see Monet’s luminous and magnetic water lilies: an impressive five of his pieces have been assembled in this show, the first time the UK’s seen such a collection for over a decade. And Turner fans, too, will get more than their fair share: with the greatest hits well represented alongside quieter, more reflective, hallucinatory works.
But it really is the exhibition’s ability to cross-pollinate Monet’s lillies with Twombly’s peonies, Twombly’s wide, foaming shores with Turner’s restless seas, and Monet’s gauzy, dreamlike Japanese footbridge with Turner’s chiaroscuro lakes and rivers that sets this show apart as something really special. A chance to take another look – they’ve even ensured one of Monet’s super-sized lillies (Water Lilies after 1916) is set against a blue wall, unlike the white space it usually calls home in the National Gallery (‘because it brings out the colours of the flowers more,’ says curator Jeremy Lewison, rightly).
Like three dance off crews battling it out, the exhibition really does show how each successive artist took courage from their predecessor, and raised their game accordingly : ‘So you can do sensual and vibrant?’ you can hear Twombly saying, of Monet’s Path Under The Rose Arches, well how do you like these petals?, raising him by an exploding and passionate Camino Real.
Essentially though, this is an exhibition of dazzling beauty, of regret and loss, the passing of time (Twombly’s Quattro Staguini – the four seasons – a homage to the rhythms of rural life, and a meditation on the inexorable passage of time) and the mutability of things.
It is, simply, wonderful.
Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings
22 June – 28 October
Tate, Albert Dock