Artsy’s Guide to the 2014 Liverpool Biennial

With a wealth of new commissions, a thought-provoking speaker series, and an array of artistic history, the eighth edition of the Liverpool Biennial offers a diverse and intriguing program. This year’s Biennial explores how artists have disrupted the tendencies and routines of everyday life. Here, Artsy gives you an overview of the exhibitions, commissions, and events around Liverpool that will captivate the city from July through October, along with director Sally Tallant’s experience of bringing this year’s show together.

1. When? Where? How?

The Liverpool Biennial takes place July 5th–October 26th, 2014, in venues across the city including The Old Blind School, the Bluecoat, FACT, and Tate Liverpool. Entrance to exhibitions and events is free unless stated otherwise on the program.

2. Why visit?

The Biennial canvasses the abundant history of Liverpool and the city’s offerings in contemporary art. This year’s exhibition, “A Needle Walks into an Haystack,” comprises a group show, new commissions, performances, and solo exhibitions in seven venues across the city. Curated by Mai Abu ElDahab and Anthony Huberman, the exhibition examines human habits and the objects, images, relationships, and activities that constitute our immediate surroundings. Because of its commitment to producing new work, the Biennial is an opportunity to see commissioned projects that are being shown for the first time. It is the second consecutive Liverpool Biennial to be directed by Sally Tallant.

3. The Second Liverpool Biennial for Director Sally Tallant

Before assuming the role of Liverpool Biennial director, Sally Tallant was the head of programs at the Serpentine Gallery, London, from 2001 to 2011, where she oversaw the formation and administration of an integrated program of exhibitions, architecture, education, and public programs. When she arrived in Liverpool at the end of 2011 to plan the 2012 Biennial, she said she had a very short time to get to know the city and arrange the exhibition. With such a depth of work and history, Tallant’s first Biennial was all-encompassing, amounting to a total of 27 sites around the city. “I think what I focused on in the first year was really trying to improve our communications and make sure people could see the incredible range of work that was presented in the Biennial,” she said. This year, she selected seven major sites through which visitors can comprehend the diversity of exhibitions and depth of work being offered around the city.

4. Community Engagement in Liverpool

The Biennial works to build the community in the city by offering programs suited to all demographics. This year, Tallant helped pilot the Mediation Programme, which is a new learning network that develops structures of mediation and interpretation for contemporary artists. The City Is a School is a free pop-up school within the program that is open to all with weekly sessions that explore the 2014 Biennial and its participating artists. With more than 100 people attending the sessions leading up to the Biennial so far, the Mediation Programme is on its way to becoming something of a free art school within the city.

5. New Commissions

At the heart of the city is a building that was formerly The Old Blind School and the Trade Union Centre. This is the first time it is being opened to the public in years, Tallant said, and it will host 16 artists, all of whom are presenting new commissioned works. 

“Leisure, Discipline, and Punish” functions as a theme for works by Petra Bauer, Sonia Boyce, Keren Cytter, Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet, Agnieszka Polska, Marinella Senatore, Dario Solman, and Peter Wächtler. These commissions have come from a combination of the Liverpool Biennial, the Contour Biennial of Moving Image, the Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, and the Biennial of Graphic Arts Ljubljana. New works from Peter Wächtler, as well as “The Waterway,” a film by Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet, are being shown in the group exhibition at The Old Blind School. A screening of films by Petra Bauer, Sonia Boyce, Keren Cytter, Agniezka Polska, and Marinella Senatore will be shown at FACT on September 3rd.

Also, the Biennial, in partnership with Liverpool Philharmonic and Liverpool Cathedral, will be presenting a new work by composer Michael Nyman, known for the scores he wrote for The Piano, to be performed on July 5th at the Liverpool Cathedral.

6. Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Dazzle Ship

When Tallant first moved to Liverpool, she came across a painting, Dazzle-Ships in Drydock at Liverpool by Edward Wadsworth. Intrigued by the painting, which pictures men painting a brightly designed ship, Tallant investigated to learn more about its history. “During the First World War, contemporary artists at the time had been commissioned to paint ships in order to make them less visible or confusing as targets…I thought this was a really amazing way to commemorate the artists that protected lives during the war,” she said.

Carlos Cruz-Diez, a Venezuelan artist recognized for kinetic and Op art, was then commissioned to work with the idea of “dazzle” camouflage to cover a historic pilot ship owned and conserved by Merseyside Maritime Museum in bright, dizzying designs. Cruz-Diez was jointly commissioned to work on the ship by the Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool, and 14-18 NOW, an art commission program taking place across the United Kingdom to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. 

7. A Special Display of Highlights from the Tate Collection 

The selected works from the Tate Collection reflect a domestic environment by bringing institutional space together with the familiar space of home. Objects from the home are replaced with works that change the objects’ meanings and functions through scale, design, and invention. There are artworks from a range of international artists including Richard Artschwager, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Richard Hamilton, Sherrie Levine, Rachel Whiteread, Andy Warhol, and Paul Nash

8. John Moores Painting Prize Preview

The John Moores Painting Prize is the United Kingdom’s longest-running painting competition, and has been dubbed “the Oscar of the British painting world.” Judges this year include artists Zeng Fanzhi, Chantal Joffe, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Tom Benson, along with the director of artistic programmes at the Royal Academy and broadcaster Tim Marlow. The paintings in this year’s preview are a mix of landscapes, portraits, and abstracts. Highlights include works by James Byrne, Tom Hackney, Barbara Howey, Tony Noble, Frank Pudney, and Alessandro Raho. The exhibition, featuring a total of 50 artists, opens at the start of the Biennial, with the first prize to be awarded in September.

9. Highlights of the Talks Programming

To expand conversation around the exhibition, there will be a series of events including “Drinks With…” and “The Companion.” “Drinks With…” features lectures and screenings with writers, artists, filmmakers, philosophers, and cultural critics to extend and continue curatorial themes of “A Needle Walks into a Haystack.” The performance program, “The Companion,” includes 10 artists over the weekend of September 19th to 21st making new performance works in relation to the city.

10. Highlights from the Partner Exhibitions

In addition to the main exhibition, the Liverpool Biennial partners with museums, organizations, and galleries to offer partner exhibitions. Bloomberg New Contemporaries has put on an exhibition of works by 55 emerging artists from art schools around the United Kingdom. The show runs at World Museum from September 20th to October 26th, 2014, before traveling to ICA, London where it will be on view from November 26th, 2014, through January 25th, 2015.   

“Total Art” at the Exhibition Research Centre will showcase Adrian Henri’s work from the 1960s and 1970s. Reflecting Henri’s curiosity and eclecticism, the exhibition also features a variety of artifacts from his estate, including original paintings, collages, annotated scripts, rock posters, counterculture documents, and rare audio and video material. 

At Open Eye Gallery, “Not All Documents are Records: Photographing Exhibitions as an Art Form”looks at three events—Documenta, The Venice Biennale, and Liverpool Biennial—through the lens of photography. The project’s main theoretical question is: “Can photography retain its artistic license and overcome pure documentation, whilst also narrating the history of an important art exhibition?” The show begins with Hans Haacke’s 1959 photographs of Documenta 2 and Ugo Mulas’ photographs of the 1968 Venice Biennale. It will then feature Ira Lombardia’s foray of a fictional character into the catalogue of dOCUMENT (13) and a new commission from Cristina De Middel will reconstruct the history and perceive the future of the Liverpool Biennial.

–– Newlin Tillotson

Explore the 2014 Liverpool Biennial on Artsy.