Well Boris is sending us back into lockdown. Not a surprise, really, but there seems to be very little enthusiasm for it this time round. Or much trust that we aren’t entering an endless cycle of lockdowns. So grateful I took full advantage of the museums when I could, even if the experience had, at times, a surreal quality to it. Last week, I tagged along when my youngest went to do some sketching at the Tate Britain for a GCSE art assignment. As my daughter filled her notebook with Henry Moores and Barbara Hepworths and the fabulous Sarah Lucas chair, I roamed the almost empty building. Aside from a handful of other solo wanderers, the only other visitors were young people sketching sculpture, for the same assignment, I presume. While it should be lovely to have a museum almost to myself, and little makes me happier than to see young people engaging with art, it became depressing rather quickly. The Tate is a buzzy place. Well it was anyway.
Happily, the Steve McQueen Year 3 project is still on display and spending time with all those smiley, gorgeous children is a great mood booster. McQueen, artist and film maker best known for Oscar winning 12 Years a Slave, photographed every Year 3 class in London, 76,000 children in total, in 2018, and hung the pictures all the way up the walls of the Duveen Galleries. McQueen’s installation shows, in real time, what London looks like now, what it will look like in the future, in all its beautiful diversity. Year 3 educates 7 & 8 year olds, an age when most haven’t learned yet to be self-conscious and posed, so the children are smiling broadly and openly. So many rays of sunshine in these unsettled and unsettling times.
Over the recent half-term break, this same daughter and I visited the Royal Academy Summer (now Winter) show. A dizzying mix of work by both the famous and the undiscovered, the professional and the amateur, the established and the enthusiast. As always, a fabulous combination of the coveted and the confusing in art. It was nothing, however, compared to the Young Artists’ Summer show featuring works by 5-19 year olds on the other side of the building. The creativity, the skill, the imagination, the referencing, the reworking, the sheer talent…I was overwhelmed. In only its second year, the judges received almost 18,000 submissions and somehow were able to choose 500 to showcase on the walls and on-line. Like McQueen’s installation, it filled me with some much needed optimism. These kids just keep on keeping on, extraordinarily, no matter what.
Unfortunately, the feeling didn’t last…as we made our way out of the Royal Academy courtyard a large group of recently made-redundant RA employees, young adults all, were gathering for a little protest. Youth and young adult unemployment is at its highest level in almost 5 decades. Resources and opportunities were stretched before the shocker that is 2020, now they have evaporated. Never mind their ability to keep on keeping on, what kind of future are we offering young people to keep on with? At least the schools are staying open, in the UK.
Bruce Nauman, the American conceptual artist known for his neon signs and provocative installations, has a retrospective on at the Tate Modern. No surprise that my sixteen year old son liked Nauman’s claustrophobic cage within a cage most of all. Made in 1974, today it looks like pure lockdown in a windowless room. The so-called new normal, but a lifestyle that surely cannot be sustained.