Lowry show at Tate

January 16 2013

Image of Lowry show at Tate

Picture: Christie's

In The Guardian, Charlotte Higgins has news of a forthcoming Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain. See if you can spot the show's possible PR angle from this:

LS Lowry – the quintessential painter of northern, working-class life – is among the most divisive of British artists. A household name, beloved of the public and commanding huge prices at auction, he is at the same time wildly unfashionable in the art world, derided for his apparently naive images of "matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs" set among the industrial landscapes of Salford, Pendlebury and Manchester.

But this June Tate Britain, in London, is to mount the first major retrospective devoted to Lowry since the artist's death in 1976. The show is co-curated by one of the world's pre-eminent scholars of French impressionism, TJ Clark.

According to Clark, Lowry is "an artist who is taken for granted and condescended to. The reaction from London art world friends over the last year and a half, when I have said I am working on Lowry, has been of deadpan incomprehension and disappointment."

There has, said Clark, been a "metropolitan resistance to taking the north seriously as a subject for art". He added: "It may now be possible to look beyond that condescension at a time ... when the limits of the London art world's view of art are pretty obvious." He said: "It is extraordinary to me, this image of him as an amateur, as someone who could barely paint, won't die. To me it is absolutely astonishing. And coded into this conversation by the metropolitan elite is the idea that someone who paints this subject matter can't be taken seriously."

What is this 'art world' in which Lowry is so unpopular? I don't recognise the one described here. As a London-based art dealer (albeit in older artworks), I can genuinely say I've never encountered the sort of condescension mentioned above, and certainly not amongst the many dealers I know who sell Lowrys to enthusiastic collectors. I suspect that this false accusation of a 'metropolitan art-world' bias against Lowry is in part being constructed to mask Tate's own long-term reluctance to show Lowry's work properly. Either way, it would be a great shame if the Lowry exhibition became enmeshed in such a debate. Let us just appreciate his art.

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