British Folk Art – reviews of Tate Britain's 'ravishing' show

Jun 12, 2014

A delightful cabinet of curiosities from figureheads to quilts offers an alternative history of Britain

What you need to know
A major new exhibition celebrating the work of Britain's folk artists has opened at Tate Britain. British Folk Art surveys everyday objects created between the mid-17th-century and the 1960s, mostly by self-taught artists and artisans.

Tate Britain has collected work from museums across the country including shop signs, Toby jugs, patchwork quilts, ship figureheads and weathervanes, many by anonymous crafts people. Runs until 31 August Tate Britain, then touring the UK.

What the critics like
Forget the high culture surroundings, this mad gallimaufry has "all the joy of the village fete", says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times. It's a fantastically heterogeneous but imaginatively vivid exhibition offering a many faceted look at a neglected corner of our culture.

A lost world of flying fish, mighty figureheads and bold quilt making, "the art here is hilarious, beguiling and mysterious by turns", says Jonathan Jones in The Guardian. This startling folk art blows up the stately-home view of our culture and shows how strange and magical the British past really is.

"This show is unexpectedly ravishing," says Ben Luke in the Evening Standard. The vast cabinet of curiosities is also an alternative social history of Britain, and now a part of the art cannon, making this delightful show so necessary.

What they don't like
"Exhibitions of folk art are pretty predictable" because a lot of it was made by a lot of people, says Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph. There are some superbly crafted objects in the show, but the standards by which we judge fine art are largely irrelevant here, and it's better to focus on the joy they inspire.       

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