The current show at Tate Liverpool – Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later Paintings – is set up as a ‘conversation’ between artists from three different periods of art practice, three different centuries, with the influence of the earliest, Turner, hanging over the other two, just as he does over so much of late nineteenth, twentieth and even twenty-first century art. It’s a conversation in which, to my biased eyes, Monet comes off the least impressively – a follower, a borrower, a painter whose admiration for Turner’s creation of mood and atmosphere, his subtle yet dynamic manipulation of colour, became, in his work, something far more subdued and settled – life seen through a gauze pinkly – lacking the fire and bite and vitality of Turner at his best.
Twombly, however, gains immeasurably from the comparison – far more so than in the rather forced company of Poussin in the recent shared show at Dulwich. Look at the four sunsets, side by side on one wall, two by Turner, two by Twombly. Imagine an artist of Twombly’s generation looking at those Turners [and umpteen others like them, good or bad, painted innumerably down the years] and asking himself, how, if I, too, want to make a painting of a sunset that is more than an homage, more than a copy, a pale imitation, can I do so? What can I do? And what he does – and I have my friend, Irving, to thank for the niceness of this observation – is to deconstruct the pictorial elements of a Turner sunset and reassemble them in such a way as to create something that presents his version, his interpretation of a sunset [Turner’s sunset] that is both new to us and true to him.
Also at Tate Liverpool, and making one’s visit even more worthwhile, are two exhibitions drawing on Tate’s own extensive collections, Innocence and Experience, curated by Marianne Faithful, and This is Sculpture, principally curated by Michael Craig-Martin, and featuring a terrific display of work by the likes of Eva Hesse, Carl Andre, Tony Cragg and Dan Flavin – the kind of pieces that had the majority of the white-haired elderly ladies who were bravely walking round the exhibit , shaking their heads in wonder and disbelief. This is sculpture?