New labels at Tate Britain

May 11 2013

Image of New labels at Tate Britain

Picture: BG

My recent April Fool on the new re-hang at Tate Britain caught a few of you out, especially the part about the picture labels. It seems, however, that I might not have been so wide of the mark. Here's an interview in The Guardian with Chris Stephens, head of displays at Tate Britain, ahead of the opening (on 14th May) of their much vaunted  chronological hang:

"There was once an expectation that every work should have a piece of text," says Stephens. "People would say they won't know what to make of a work unless they were told A, B and C. But what if the label tells you X, Y and Z?" The new hang has taken "a middle course" and a number of short texts will start from a work, but are designed to open up wider historical and political issues. [...]

While the new Tate chronology runs strictly from the 1500s to today, the layout of the museum will allow visitors to dip into areas as they please. "It's all part of this lighter touch that lets people choose more what they look at and how they think about it," says Stephens. "Art seems to be the one domain where we still hang on to academic and historical constructs as a necessary way of it being appreciated." He says that people are not required to know the history of literature and movements before taking a book out of the library, or require knowledge of kitchen sink realism before going to the cinema. "We still have all the historical information available, in many formats, if people want it. But whether it is useful or not, you don't need to know it to appreciate the pictures. Your response is as valid as our knowledge, and this re-hang presents a sort of release for the artist and their work from this encumbrance of academic protocols. Interestingly, some of the people I've encountered who have found it hardest to get their heads round are other curators and historians. But I think the public are going to be fine."

If you think about it, the sentence 'Your response is as valid as our knowledge' is a chilling concept for what is meant to be, at its heart, an educational institution.

David Packwood over at Art History Today is not happy about the re-hang being called 'The BP Walk Through British Art' (and neither am I)

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