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Art Editorial

receivedwisdo.jpg Upsetting received wisdom

In art, radicalism, real radicalism, comes from youth, does it not? The younger you are the more likely it is that you will ignore the conventions of the day, right? Wrong! ‘Received Wisdom’ is an exhibition in Sunderland that brings together a bold body of work that was created by older artists for whom age was no barrier to dynamism and creativity.

Of course, one doesn’t have to look too hard back through art history to discover artists who did some of their most arresting work later in life. When Matisse was chair- and bedbound, and painting and sculpture were beyond him, he created astonishingly bold works using pieces of cut out, coloured paper. Many of them are among his most famous and popular works today.

In Picasso’s final years he produced a torrent of work that prefigured neo-expressionism. These pieces are continually being reassessed and appraised today.

Louise Bourgeois became known for her championing of radical causes and even in the last year of her life, in 2010, she was using her work to speak up for LGBT equality.

So, yes, there are a lot of examples you can find whereby artists have continued to flourish when their first flush of youth has gone, but received wisdom usually has it that it’s the young we need to look to if we want rule breaking and boundary mangling. But, as this exhibition rather gleefully makes clear, a middle age paunch, is no handicap when it comes to creativity.

Rebecca Ball, Creative Director of Sunderland Culture: “We wanted to use the opportunity of our first Arts Council Collection show to challenge what it is to be an artist and dispel some stereotypes about age and ageing. From those who have been working as artists all their lives, but whose art has only received recognition in their later years, to those who only began producing art in their 60s or 70s, the breadth and range of artworks are incredibly inspiring.”

The exhibition brings together works of 36 artists including a wide range of art forms taking in sculpture, painting, photography and mixed media.The title of the show, ‘Received Wisdom’, is taken from one of the featured artworks by Amikam Toren (pictured), one of the UK’s foremost conceptual artists. Other artists showing work include Phyllida Barlow, John Sheehy and Elisabeth Vellacott, who had her first solo exhibition at the age of 63 before working long into her 90s.When Lubaina Himid - a pioneer of the Black Arts movement in the 1980s - was awarded the Turner Prize in 2017, she became the oldest ever recipient of the illustrious award. Her series of small-scale paintings, imagining conversations between African slaves and millworkers in Manchester, will be shown as part of the exhibition.

Acclaimed international pioneer of social art with a purpose, John Newling, and Jacqueline Morreau, who contributed to the feminist art movement in Britain, are also represented alongside others including Jo Spence, Hurvin Anderson and Amal Ghosh.

Work from artists who showed a radical change in style as they aged, such as John Stezaker and Margaret Mellis, who in her late 60s began creating abstract art on pieces of driftwood, are also presented in the exhibition.

Jill Constantine, Director, Arts Council Collection: “All the artists in ‘Received Wisdom’ have made an enormous contribution to visual arts in the UK. This ambitious exhibition shows that creativity is a lifelong activity in which we can all engage, develop and enjoy in our different ways and this is exactly what the National Partners Programme is designed to support.”

To mark the start of the three-year programme, a new Art Lounge has been created on the first floor of the Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, where visitors can relax and explore the Arts Council Collection either digitally or through a selection of books and catalogues. Here visitors can also enjoy a specially made film following the journey of a group of people from Sunderland who travelled across the UK to delve into the Collection’s archives, learn more about the art works and share their personal favourites.

‘Received Wisdom’ will be accompanied by an extensive learning and engagement programme, from Art Taster workshops for adults and young people to family events and an Easter Art School. More details on these, from the websites, below.

Received Wisdom, until 10 May, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens. Free entry. sunderlandmuseum.org.uk; sunderlandculture.org.uk