Beyond London – Liverpool Biennial Arts
Music, football and religion – the holy trinity in Liverpool; no other topics arouse quite as much passion in the city as these do. While art might not be the first thing you associate with this thriving metropolitan city, it has more Grade II-listed buildings, galleries and museums than any UK city outside London, making it a must-visit destination. Located in Merseyside, in the northwest of England, Liverpool derives its name from ‘lifer pool’, meaning ‘muddy pool’. It was in the 13th century that this ‘pool’ played a role in the city’s fortunes, as the seaport became Britain’s trading gateway to the world. As Liverpool’s ambitions grew, so too did its skyline with ‘The Three Graces’: the Cunard Building, the Royal Liver Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. Today, as you walk along the Albert Dock, which retains many of its original features, you can take in some of the country’s most impressive architecture and art institutions.
Now, with the Liverpool Biennial taking place (14th July–28th October), it’s a wonderful time to visit. Enjoy art that has been inspired by the city on the River Mersey, in churches and, of course, galleries including The Bluecoat and Tate Liverpool. This huge festival, which was launched in 1998, has this year’s theme Beautiful world, where are you? – which is the title of a Friedrich Schiller poem – where participants have been asked to respond to social, political and economic turmoil. As one of its participating artists, Mohamed Bourouissa, explains: ‘There is an energy within the community. They are definitely activists.’ So, if you say you want a revolution (or just some fine art), Liverpool awaits.
While the football grounds might be just as sacred to Liverpudlians as its churches, it’s still worth visiting the actual places of worship. The grandaddy of cathedrals comes in the form of Liverpool Cathedral, which is fittingly located on Hope Street. This awe-inspiring construction (it’s the largest cathedral in the country) will even get non-believers wondering how the hands of man could have created such a divine building. Giles Gilbert Scott, the grandson of Sir George Gilbert Scott who built London’s St Pancras Station, is the mastermind behind the structure. Proving that he was blessed with talent, Scott was only 22 years old when he received the commission; work began in 1904 and the cathedral took 74 years to complete.
In 2008, when the city became European Capital of Culture, a sign by artist Tracey Emin, which read ‘I felt you and I knew you loved me’, was added under a stained-glass window. Originally meant to be a temporary installation, it proved so popular it’s now a permanent feature. While you’re there, travel 150 metres to the top of the cathedral for the Tower Experience. Twilight Thursday has extended opening hours; arrive before sunset and see the city, literally, in a different light. You may not have made it to heaven, but you have just reached one of the highest points in the city.
The folk song In My Liverpool Home says: ‘If you want a cathedral, we’ve got one to spare’ – the ‘spare’ refers to Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, which was built in 1967. It is known locally as Paddy’s Wigwam, which refers to the Roman Catholics of Irish descent who worship here. Shaped like a crown, it’s a dramatic, modern piece of architecture, with the altar in the centre and seats encircling it. Conceptual artist Ryan Gander says of the building: ‘Whether you’re religious or not, it’s so magical and mesmerising.’ He should know – during the Liverpool Biennial he is working with schoolchildren to create work inspired by the shape of the cathedral.
Making An Exhibition
Liverpool has a historic connection with China: boasting the oldest Chinatown in Europe, some of its street signs are in Cantonese. This year it achieved a cultural coup: China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors (to 28 Oct) at the World Museum displays seven of the warriors, alongside thousands of artefacts. David Fleming, former director of the National Museums Liverpool, says: ‘World Museum is one of the jewels in Liverpool’s cultural crown, and the Terracotta Warriors exhibition is surely one of the most important exhibitions we have ever held here.’ Located along William Brown Street are three much-loved public buildings: the World Museum, Central Library and, one of Europe’s finest art galleries, the Walker Art Gallery. This gem of a building has a statue of the Spirit of Liverpool sitting proudly at the top – the original was replaced in 1993 with a replica of sculptor John Warrington Wood’s mascot.
Befitting his name, he was born just outside Liverpool, in Warrington. The statue shows a woman with a crown, a wreath and a (fictional) liver bird. She sits on a bale of cotton which symbolises the city’s trade and industry, while the trident and the propeller represent domination over the sea. The venue has work by one of Liverpool’s most famous sons, George Stubbs. He learnt to paint under the supervision of fellow Liverpudlian artist, Hamlet Winstanley, and he’s famous for his animal portraits. If you were around in the 18th century, chances are that you’d have Stubbs to thank for seeing a kangaroo for the first time – in 1772 he painted the animal in The Kongouro from New Holland. He was interested in the anatomical construction of animals, and carried out dissections to further his knowledge.The iconic northern artist LS Lowry’s paintings, with matchstick figures, brooding landscapes and industrial life, famously depict the north including The Liver Buildings Liverpool. As for a famous daughter, actress Kim Cattrall, who starred in Sex and the City, was born in Liverpool; there’s a portrait of her by Samira Addo in the gallery.
The Sound of Music
Four names continue to draw in the tourists: John, Paul, George and Ringo – there’s no way you can talk about Liverpool without talking about The Beatles. The Fab Four may be the city’s gift to the world, but the group are a gift for the city’s tourism – so much so that the fans who make a pilgrimage here add £83 million a year to Liverpool’s economy. Double Fantasy: John and Yoko (to 22nd April 2019) at the Museum of Liverpool shows how John Lennon and Yoko Ono expressed their love through art. Ono says: ‘I am so happy and grateful that we are having a show in Liverpool. This is where John was born and I know he would be very happy. Everything was made out of love. We found that we were both very strongly interested in world peace.’ Take a look at memorabilia, from his handwritten lyrics of Happy Christmas, War is Over to his hard-won Green Card.
Fans of The Beatles should continue their journey to Liverpool’s waterfront. Sir Peter Blake, who designed the cover of the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, has transformed the Mersey Ferry Snowdrop into a moving artwork for the Liverpool Biennial. Hop on board Everybody Razzle Dazzle for free, and learn about the history of the ships that were used during World War I.
EAT YOUR ART OUT
Liverpool’s most luxurious hotel is north of the city in Stanley Dock. For a touch of theatrical dining, visit Stanley’s Bar & Grill. The open kitchen lets you watch the chefs preparing your food. The dining area is inside a large brick building – the biggest at the time when it was built in 1901. www.titanichotelliverpool.com
Salt House Bacaro
Can’t make your mind up on what to eat? Then enjoy small sharing plates: try the mini pizzas, grilled king scallops and crab. Order one of the Bellinis – we recommend the limoncello and raspberry or the St Germain elderflower – and enjoy the delights of this chic restaurant. www.salthousebacaro.co.uk
Hanover Street Brasserie
Steak, duck breast or pork belly – this is a must for meat lovers. The gin selection is extensive, and the cocktails are given a twist. www.hanoverstreetsocial.co.uk
THE GREAT EXHIBITION OF THE NORTH
The Great Exhibition of the North (to 9 Sep) opened last month in Newcastle. The country’s largest water sculpture, at 80 metres high, ‘danced’ to a soundtrack of music, and the Mercury Prize-nominated northern band, Maximo Park, performed on the River Tyne. If you’ve never experienced the charm of the north, what are you waiting for? This vast event celebrates the north with exhibitions and performances. Life in a Northern Town, which takes place in Newcastle, looks at artist-led organisations in Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and Liverpool. At the Great North Museum in Newcastle, the exhibition Which Way North (to 9th September) includes George Stubbs’ paintings and the last piano John Lennon played.