Keywords, Tate Liverpool

Keywords, Tate Liverpool

Tate Liverpool presents Keywords, an exhibition building on Raymond Williams’ study of the vocabulary of culture and society. Published in 1976, Williams’ Keywords has become a seminal work in the study of English, as well as the fields of cultural studies and visual culture. The book contains over 130 short essays on words such as ‘Violence’, ‘Country’, ‘Criticism’, ‘Media’, ‘Popular’ and ‘Exploitation’, providing an account of the word’s current use, its origin and the range of meanings attached to it.

The exhibition spans a twenty year period from the first publication of the book to the last year of Conservative rule in 1996, and has a strong focus on British art of the 1980s. This decade was marked by many forms of oppositional politics in Britain, which had a direct impact on culture – from the miners’ strike, the campaign for Nuclear disarmament, race riots, and gay liberation to an ongoing insurgency against British rule in Northern Ireland. In this exhibition these viewpoints are juxtaposed by a generation of British artists who were familiar with the ideas that Williams and other cultural theorists were exploring at the time.

Almost sixty works by artists such as Stuart Brisley, Helen Chadwick, Rita Donagh, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, David Hockney, Anish Kapoor, Peter Kennard, John Latham, Stephen McKenna, Carl Plackman, Donald Rodney, Jo Spence, Anne Tallentire and Stephen Willats are grouped in a relationship to key words from William’s book. Viewers are confronted with manifestations of words from Williams’s book including ‘Liberation’, ‘Violence’, ‘Unconscious’ and ‘Private’ in a specially designed space conceived by artist Luca Frei and designer Will Holder.

In addition, a number of seminal artworks are being uniquely reshown such as One for Sorrow Two for Joy (1976) a pioneering performance from Rose Finn-Kelcey and Sunil Gupta’s controversial London Gay Switchboard 1980. Helen Chadwick’s notorious Carcass (1986) will also go on display for the first time since its début.

Central to Keywords has been its public talks programme by major figures from the spheres of art, theory, activism and politics. This has included lectures by Linda Bellos on ‘Equality’, Douglas Crimp on ‘Theory’, Geeta Kapur on ‘Practice’, Leo Bersani on ‘Sex’ and Tony Bennett on ‘Culture’. This outstanding line up will continue with Baroness Lola Young on ‘Ethical’ in spring 2014.

Keywords is curated by Gavin Delahunty, Head of Exhibitions and Displays, Tate Liverpool and Grant Watson, Senior Curator and Research Associate, Iniva.

Keywords is on display from 28 February to 11 May at Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock, Liverpool Waterfront, Liverpool L3 4BB. For more information visit

1. Untitled 1983, Anish Kapoor. © Anish Kapoor. Image courtesy Tate.