Modern art, done the Hull way

When I opened Twitter one day in January and found that the City of Culture team had spent the night hauling a full size wind turbine propeller blade across the city, moving lampposts and traffic lights to suspend the thing in the city centre, I have to admit I did the whole ‘bollocks to modern art’ thing. It seemed like a fun surprise for the public but I was dubious about its artistic credibility. But I promised myself I’d give it a chance. Art is loosely defined as anything which makes us think or debate, so I decided I’d visit it in person before giving it a lot of thought. The result? I was hoping to be awed into some aesthetic impressiveness, giving me lots to say. Instead, as soon as I saw it, I thought ‘that’s bloody massive’. Unfortunately my critique didn’t get much more sophisticated, I just repeated myself over and over. Because it is. It’s bloody massive.

Blade, set against the Maritime Museum in Queen Victoria Square, Hull
Blade, set against the Maritime Museum in Queen Victoria Square, Hull

I can see that Blade is an important installation, particularly right now, when the political landscape is changing for the worse and envirosceptics are charging ahead in the world. Giving some gravitas to green energy production methods and allowing people a close up of the design involved is only going to bring benefits, particularly when it is, as I say, bloody massive, and therefore impressive. I’m still unsure whether it’s impressive as art, or just a logistical project, but either way I’ve been struck by the quantity of positive comments towards it. People are properly loving going under it on the bus, getting selfies with the thing and repeatedly saying how it looks photoshopped, I just think there are better installations to be seen.

Talking of which, how about a whole gallery of them?

Ferens Art Gallery was officially reopened by Prince Charles yesterday, and we got the chance to visit (baby-free!) at the weekend. Despite what I’ve said above, I love modern art. Francis Bacon’s Nervous System exhibition is currently on show (also dubbed ‘The Screaming Pope series by our elegant local paper 🙄). His work is dark and haunting, and not my usual taste but I really enjoyed his work, particularly the unfinished piece (no photos allowed, sorry).

A piece from the new collection at Ferens Art Gallery
A piece from the new collection at Ferens Art Gallery

My absolute favourite thing that the Ferens does though is the annual open exhibition. I had wanted to enter some photography work last year, but seeing the quality of the chosen pieces, I’m not upset I didn’t get round to it. There is sculpture, paintings, pencil drawings, mixed media, photography and light installations this year, and the quality is so much higher than I’ve previously seen. The great thing about it is how it expands your knowledge of local artists. None of the pieces have interpretations written up to accompany them (which is really annoying!), but it lets you note down the name of the artists and do your own research instead. We found a large scale pencil drawing we loved, and could have bought too, if we happened to find a spare £2k on the walk home. There were plenty of pieces I loved though, and despite rushing around to make sure we saw it all in the time we had, I’m determined to go back before the gallery changes and give the work the time and attention it deserves.

I can’t review Ferens without mentioning Pietro Lorenzetti. His 13th Century work is the latest acquired for display, and helps to show why such a massive refurb and lighting overhaul was so justified for the whole gallery. As I said before, I’m more into modern art than anything else, but it was still great to see such accomplished art on show in Hull. My only critique is that the main piece in the collection, Christ between Saints Paul and Peter, was probably hung by someone fairly tall. I had to stretch up to see it without the reflection of the spotlights blocking the detail, but it was impressive once I could see it properly.

What I love about art is how it forces you to think. Even if that is just a single thought of how awful something is, someone’s work has prompted that, and that is something we should constantly challenge ourselves with, and introduce new ideas to ourselves more and more. I’d love to purely review art for art’s sake, but it’s so hard not to connect everything with politics lately. Even the Francis Bacon portraits came from a time when artists presented their work differently during World War Two. The world can be so damn harsh at times, and even art we don’t like is still art, and that provides the balance that lets daily life seem like progress is still present. Or something mildly profound like that anyway…

Now to dig out my drawing pencils.

My favourite installation from the Open Exhibition
My favourite installation from the Open Exhibition

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