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A brief history of art; Lew Baxter meets the man behind The Tate's biggest exhibition to date, which chronicles the 20th century.

Byline: Lew Baxter

AFTER only joining Tate Liverpool as head of exhibitions six months ago, Simon Groom never really expected to find himself embroiled in the euphoria evinced by the city capturing that coveted European Capital of Culture crown. Instead he is at the forefront of confirming that the status is well deserved.

The unveiling, tomorrow, of what is arguably the gallery's most expansive exhibition to date, focusing on 20th century international modern art, will once more put the focus very firmly on the city and its cultural zeitgeist. Simon insists it wasn't part of any great design to fit into the successful bid - for how could he and his team have guessed the result when the ideas where first mooted a year or so back. But the exhibition, which will run on an evolving basis through to the middle of 2005, is hardly afluke,he hopes.

It is a representation of the century in six distinct modules,he reveals,culled from all four of the Tate's UK sites; and he laughs that there is often a fight over the best pieces to show. ``In this caseLiverpool has come off pretty well,'' hedeclares.

``It is impossible to tell the whole story of 20th art in one go,as it doesn't flow from say cubism to surrealism through abstraction to political art in any linear way,'' explains Simon who reveals that althoughhe's spent most of his life in the south,he is originally from this locale.

``It is an amazing time to come back and be involved in this long-term exhibition whose dynamic will - and this is very important - be continually changing ever six to eight months,'' he says.

It is in the form of a very loose chronology, explains Simon, but the subject has such abroad scope that the exhibition, for all its vast encompassing range, is merely one view of art over that century.

``By keeping it fluid through changing one element regularly we a renot trying to pull the wool over people eyes by saying this is the history of 20th century art per se. It is just one representation, one strand,'' he points out.

Even so, what he and a team of three curators backed up by other staff has achieved at Tate Liverpool - the largest gallery space out of London - is pretty impressive and influential in both scope and presentation.

It tells the story of art in five particular historical perspectives from 1905 through to the end of the 1970s when new streams of thought invoked the use of land in conceptualart.

``Artists then began to consider the body within a landscape and this was associated to an Italian movement that was persuaded to use everyday materials such as wool, wood, water and clay; matter they used to put things together in anew way,'' comments Simon.

E EXPLAINS that the human body - and largely the female form - is a common thread that pervades throughout the show as it zooms in on particular impressions and perceptions across the 20th century.

``In our post-First World War period through to 1930 - in what was called `the return to order' after the degradation of that conflict - artists began to console themselves with harmonious forms and colour again. Almost a return to a Greek or classicalideal,'' says Simon, clearly himself quite taken with the breathtaking panorama that the 110 works of art involved in the first incarnation offer.

``Eacherahas been allocated a room and this post war one will be,I think, the most beautifulimaginable,'' he says, a veritable feast of Picasso-Matisse works incorporating monumental sculptures, the like of which is unrivalledin the 20th century.

``We have two enormous sculptures - big and beautiful,of the backs of women - that a reincredibly sensuous and powerful. And a couple of Picassos also adorn this room: one a figurative woman - a Mediterranean image-- and then a simpler portrait of a female face,alongside Matisse's reclining nude and Duncan Grant's hilarious Venus,'' says a delighted Simon. The first era from the turn of the century sets the tone, as the world comes out of post-impressionism where, continues Simon, you still have an image that is identifiable but is beginning to fragment, leading to cubism and futurism et al.

``It shows how art was influenced by the war and in reaction the continental scene saw artists emerge as diverse as PaulCezanne, Georges Braqueand Constantin Brancusi, producing images of idealised female figures which mimicked the styles of classical and primitive art,'' he says.

Along the way the exhibition ponders awhile on the period after the Second World War,from 1945 to 1960; an austere time and it was here, explains Simon, the art world becamemessy. ``There was a rejection of all that went before,it was less romantic, much more uncompromising, reflected by was happening then in Paris with existentialism. All kinds of values were seemingly made bankrupt by the war and people were looking to start again: to try to find some universal significance beyond nation and culture. ``These works are pretty much the artists throwing themselves against the canvas, against the material, to try and define themselves and start again. It was a poor era and they used anything they could get their hands on: in Britain artists turned to mud, tar and bitumen and there was Jackson Pollock who threw household paint around, or the Japanese artist who used sweet papers as a form of expression.'' In an attempt to allow a changing format to evolve, while maintaining the common themes,one of the rooms will be completely altered and changed every six to eight months, thus allowing the art to morph and shift into a graphic,living, moving history, rather than stylised in a text book,believes Simon. He feels that powerful works by artists such as Mona Hatoum,BarbaraKruger and William Kentridge will show that the role of art is as much about communicating issues as it is about being a source of healing.

Many of the works have never been seen in Liverpool before and a specific room has also been allocated for a dedicated focus - again one that will change regularly - on the work of a single artist. It opens with the pioneering French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.

8 21st through to mid 2005. International Modern Art - Tate Liverpool: Saturday June


EXHIBITION: Simon Groom with a portrait of Jacques Nayray by Albert; IN THE FRAME: Gallery staff,below, hang The Gardener Vallier,1906,by Paul Cezanne. Other pictures are by Henri Matisse.Picasso's Seated Woman in Chemise (1923)left,Church Zeeland (1910), right and,above, Andre Derain's Pool of London,1906
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 20, 2003
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