Bethany Resendez

Tate Liverpool presents ‘Fernand Léger: New Times, New Pleasures’

Tate Liverpool presents the first major UK exhibition of Fernand Léger’s

work in over 30 years, offering more than 40 paintings from across Europe, including many of which have never before been seen in the UK. Léger was an artist renowned for his political engagement and his consistent belief that art was a social function of expression- this exhibition displays this through a number of mediums including abstract paintings, a large-scale mural, textiles and film. Léger is an artist that depicts the reality of his time: a world in flux, post-war and pre-modernity, playing the role of a man desperately trying to organise and explain it.

Walking through the three rooms presenting his work, it becomes evident that Léger was a man influenced by his history as an architect- one who lived in the 1910’s metropolis of Paris. His style is bold, original, graphic and modern- all of it seems to come across almost like a street advertisement. For example, some personal highlights I encountered were Soldiers Playing Cards, that consisted of cylindrical objects portraying robotic soldiers- Léger was enlisted in the first world war, much of his work is his own commentary on the machinery of war. J’ai Tue has the same message and similar abstract style, representing his own guilt in the participation of war. His interest in cinema also influenced his work. Mechanical Ballet is a short, collaborative film presented during the exhibition that is widely regarded as being one the masterpieces of early filmmaking- to me it was one of the most interesting aspects of Léger’s work.

One of Léger’s biggest beliefs was that art should be enjoyed by all. He believed deeply that all sections of society should have access to art, having previously observed that “the workers…have never had the necessary time nor sufficient freedom” to enable this. He created paintings depicting the world of labour, including construction workers and people taking part in leisurely activities in the sun. Art was a means for elevating the quality of life for the working man. In Leisure – Homage to Louis David Léger’s group scene shows people of different races, ages, and classes united by a shared leisure activity of cycling, amongst doves and olive branches complementing the scene, emphasising his pacifist ideals.

Arguably the centre of the entire exhibition is the mural that faces you when entering the second room. Exhibited for the first time in the UK, Essential Happiness, New Pleasures is a large scale photomural employs the same abstract and graphic style found in his paintings that first appeared at the International Exposition in Paris in 1937. The mural promotes rural life amongst a background of economic depression- it urges all nations to work collectively in order to form a better future for all.

Fernand Léger: New Times, New Pleasures allows for insight into the artist’s life, career, and political beliefs. Léger is an artist that is accessible to all- in exactly the way that he wished it to be, and in this exhibition is presented in a concise and interesting way, with each painting and room telling a different story.

Fernand Léger: New Times, New Pleasures is on display at Tate Liverpool now until 17th March 2019.

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