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Jonathan's Art Dilemma No. 17: What are exhibitions for?

Friday, 26 November 2010

Liverpool, 2010.

The Royal Liverpool Hospital is on the verge of redevelopment. The main building will soon be demolished. This was the site for Bridget Riley's brief foray into public art. 1979, asked to decorate the corridors of the new hospital, Riley designed a system of colour coding. One that used pattern and colour intensity to indicate where you were in the hospital. What Riley thought would be simple turned out to be incredibly complex. For respite she went to Egypt. In the temples she saw how the ancient Egyptians had used multi coloured palettes, how they had painted with the architecture rather than trying to obliterate it.
Bridget Riley returned invigorated. Bold horizontal stripes of blues, mauves, pinks, black and whites. Rather than paint applied directly onto the walls she had the designs printed on to vinyl wallpaper, this would hold the colours better, be simpler to clean or repair.
Three years later the designs were painted over. What was planned to be calming and uplifting received a critical thumbs down from patients and staff of the hospital. ‘Too hectic’. The walls returned to drab normality.
No remnants remain. I’ve spoken to those who were involved at the hospital. Questions are treated with good grace and humour, but even now you can tell that they were relieved to see the wallpaper taken down. I wonder whether there are a few rolls in a store cupboard somewhere? It would be interesting to hear what Bridget remembers about the experience. 

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