Photo Friday: A Needle Walks into a Haystack

Liverpool John Moores University  Special Collections & ArchivesThe Liverpool Biennial 2014 opens tomorrow with exhibitions across the city. The title of this year’s Biennial is A Needle Walks into a Haystack, and there will be exhibitions held at the Bluecoat, FACT, The Old Blind School, St Andrews Gardens, Tate Liverpool and Liverpool Medical Institution as part of this festival.

LJMU have been involved with an exhibition being held at the Bluecoat as part of the Liverpool Biennial, entitled James McNeill Whistler and curated by Mai Abu ElDahab and Rosie Cooper. Whistler was one of the most influential figures in the arts of the nineteenth century, and played an important role in paving the way for abstract painting. He was also the first to consider the exhibition space as a total environment, even on one occasion insisting that gallery attendants wear yellow clothing.

LJMU have loaned a number of volumes of Punch to this exhibition, and have provided digital images from our Nineteenth Century Periodicals Collection. This week’s Photo Friday is taken from Punch in December 1878, and shows a cartoon entitled “Whistler versus Ruskin”. This refers to the infamous court case, where Whistler sued the prominent critic John Ruskin, who had accused him of metaphorically “flinging a pot of paint in the face of the public”. Whistler used this well publicized trial to raise very contemporary concerns about art’s relationship to realism, and by forcing his detractors to take a public stand he explicitly situated art as a matter of public concern.

More than 100 years after his death, Whistler has been chosen as part of A Needle Walks into a Haystack because his attitude, motivations and commitment are as resonant now as they ever were.

For more information about the Liverpool Biennial, see their website. Access to all Special Collections material is through the LJMU Archivist.

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