British Folk Art Exhibition: Tate Britain

Lack of an integrated approach

I visited the British Folk Art exhibition at Tate Britain yesterday and, like the curate’s egg, I found the exhibition was good in parts. (Closes today: moves to Compton Verney, Warwickshire, next month.) There were some truly amazing objects and memorable images. I liked the fact that there was a diversity of objects and styles and that they were allowed largely to speak for themselves by being hung together in context with one another. This worked really well with the trade signs where the artefacts were grouped together and it was a surprise to see early 20th century trade signs up against much older ones: it worked less well when there were only one or two examples of a particular strand – such as portraits of extremely fat livestock or landscapes of minor gentry houses – clearly proud of their homes, gardens, and farms, but not able to afford or have access to more accomplished artists to depict what was so dear to them. This is a common and important strand in what we understand as ‘folk art’ and it was difficult to see why so few examples could be provided, as there are usually several examples in regional museums and galleries. I can think of a few off-hand.


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