New Tate show to 'reassess' Lowry after 'shame' campaign

LS Lowry

Major exhibition of artist's work planned after appeal by Sir Ian McKellen

LAST UPDATED AT 13:39 ON Thu 10 May 2012

UPDATE, 14 MAY: Since this item was posted, the Tate Gallery has responded. A spokesperson insists that the Lowry Landscapes exhibit, planned for 2013, has been a long time in development and is not the hasty result of any perceived pressure from Sir Ian McKellen’s documentary. Furthermore, the quote used from head of displays Chris Stephens does not fully convey his admiration and championing of LS Lowry, something he and the Tate would like to clarify. Suggestions that Lowry is 'too Northern' or 'not highbrow enough' for the Tate are quite wrong.

THE TATE gallery has announced it will hold its first major exhibition of the work of LS Lowry, following a campaign to have the works on public display. The Lowry landscapes exhibit, planned for 2013 at Tate Britain, is the first such show held by a public institution in London since the artist's death in 1976.
 
Sir Ian McKellen led the campaign to have the popular Lancashire artist's work displayed in the London gallery. The actor called it a "shame verging on the iniquitous that foreign visitors to London shouldn't have access to the painter English people like more than most others". In a documentary last year, McKellen said that "silly lies have been thrown around that he was only a Sunday painter, an amateur, untrained and naïve".
 
McKellen was joined by other members of the arts community, who questioned whether the 'matchstick men' painter has been overlooked because he was considered too northern and provincial. The Guardian reported last year that Mancunian singer Noel Gallagher said: "They're not considered Tateworthy. Or is it just because he is a northerner?"
 
At the time the Tate denied the accusation, pointing to its establishment of the Tate Liverpool and its promotion of Yorkshire sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
 
Based on comments from people working at the Tate, it seems it wasn't Lowry's 'northern-ness' that was the problem. It's more likely the Tate regarded his work as not highbrow enough. The Daily Telegraph reports that the Tate's head of displays, Chris Stephens said last year: "What makes Lowry so popular is the same thing which stops him being the subject of serious critical attention. What attracts so many is a sort of sentimentality about him."
 
But it seems the Tate is now ready to revise its opinion. The gallery says its upcoming show, set to feature around 80 works, "aims to re-assess Lowry's contribution as part of a wider art history and to argue for his achievement as Britain's pre-eminent painter of the industrial city". · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.