'The Tate of the North' Brings the City a New Image

NOTHING better exemplifies Liverpool's resolve to project a better image to the world than its new Tate Gallery - an offshoot of London's world-famous gallery of the same name - which opened in a refurbished dockside warehouse here three years ago.And nobody better mirrors the boldness of the city's drive to break new creative ground than Maud Sulter, the Tate's artist-in-residence. Born in Glasgow of a father from Ghana and a Scottish mother, Ms. Sulter is a feminist determined to promote the "special qualities" of women artists and bring an appreciation of black consciousness to Liverpool's gallery-goers. "There is a lack of balance in many public art collections, with women of high caliber often forgotten or under-represented," she says. "It is important that that should change." Two of Sulter's latest projects opened at the Tate on Aug. 23. "Echo" is a celebration of 18 women painters whose works are normally held in the London Tate. Artists include Vanessa Bell, Natalie Gontcharova, and Gwen John. In "Hysteria," Sulter uses her own plaques, photographs, and sound track to tell the story of a 19th-century black woman artist who traveled from the Americas to Europe in search of fame and fortune. To put "Echo" together, Sulter was given full access to the London Tate's archives, library, and art collection. "My particular aim was to facilitate the continuing debate around the politics of women and modernism," she says. "It was fascinating to put together the works of women artists whose work is often exhilarating but is unknown to many people. I hope those who come to see the show will analyze the pictures, discover what is special about them, and broaden their perceptions of what can bring enjoyment." The "Tate of the North," as Liverpudlians have taken to calling it, opened its doors in 1988 in the Albert Dock area. Lewis Biggs, the curator, defines the gallery's objective as "encouraging an awareness, understanding, and enjoyment of the best 20th-century art through making it accessible to new audiences." Twelve months after it opened the Tate was named Britain's Fine Art Museum of the Year. So far over 2 million visitors have strolled its galleries, and it is likely that the 3 million mark will be reached early next year. The museum's development is continuing. When it's complete, the Liverpool Tate will have 2,700 square metres (9,720 square feet) of gallery space. Modern masterpieces such as Piccaso's "Weeping Woman" attract close and enthusiastic attention from visitors to the Liverpool Tate. This year's special exhibits have included statues by Alberto Giacometti and a touring exhibition of the art of handicapped children. Last year the gallery put on an exhibition, "Art from Cologne Liverpool's sister city in Germany. Sulter says visitors attending her weekly open studio are interested and curious. When they want to ask questions, either Sulter herself or one of a team of "invigilators" are available to talk about the works on display.

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