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Culture: Slick and polished but no longer; Terry Grimley looks at what's new in the Waterhall's latest exhibition.

Byline: Terry Grimley

Every few months the Museum & Art Gallery's modern gallery refreshes its displays with themed exhibitions featuring a mix of old favourites, guest stars and a few surprises.

This is the case with The Human Condi-tion, subtitled The Figure in British Art 1950-2002, although it seems to include one or two artists who may not be British at all. There are no prizes for guessing that some favourites by Francis Bacon, Henry Moore and others are here.

Regular visitors who, in the nicest possible way, take these masterpieces for granted will cut straight to the novelties. These include rarely-glimpsed items from the permanent collection like David Reekie's neat small glass sculpture Living in Confined Spaces II and a series of ambiguous, faintly disturbing lithographs by Jean Rustin (born in France in 1928), a new name to me. Portuguese artist Marta de Menezes' Pa-tricia Playing the Piano, on loan from the artist, marks a welcome move into new media. This DVD projection uses something called 'functional magnetic resonance' to show the brain activity of a young woman playing the piano. Actually, it doesn't show very much at all, but it is rather beautiful. And in this case the music, rather than the eyes, follows you around the room.

Also on loan from the artist are two of Barbara Walker's paintings of black community life in Birmingham, which I like more than the portraits she is currently showing in True Stories at Wolverhampton Arts Gallery.

In fact, I think the museum should buy Washing the Feet. Once again, as when it was shown in Walker's solo exhibition at MAC, I'm impressed by the quiet but unmistakeable way it places itself in the tradition of Old Master religious painting.

Following the tragic destruction of Forward, Birmingham's other Raymond Mason sculpture, A Tragedy in the North, gets its first public outing for some time. Inspired in the mid-1970s by a newspaper photograph of a mining disaster in northern France -and, one suspects, by Mason's Brummie sense of working class solidarity -it moves and irritates at the same time with its disarming directness and wonky perspective.

The loans include one of Wolverhampton Art Gallery's creepy sculptures by Ana Maria Pacheco and a strong portrait by John Bratby from the mid-1950s of his then wife. Bratby may not be our greatest painter of the 20th century, but paintings like this -and the one bought by the Museum & Art Gallery a few years ago -convince me that he is better than his more recent reputation would suggest.

Until February 29 (Mon-Thu 10am-5pm, Fri 10.30am-5pm; Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12.30pm-5pm; admission free).


Hockley artist Barbara Walker stands in front of one of her paintings in the Human Condition show at the Waterhall gallery
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 7, 2003
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