Described as “Combining fashion, football, and art as told from the terraces of the stadiums, [this is the] first major exhibition to tell the story of a movement that defined sports culture of the 1970s, 80s and 90s”. The show has achieved this – but much more too, as it has also re-confirmed that art spaces are for all of us. Reconnecting generations, families and friendships have been other by-products of this wonderful show, that opened in November 2022.
Mag North spent some time last week with Pauline Rushton who is Head of Decorative Arts for Liverpool Museums. ‘Art of the Terraces’ only exists because of Pauline’s vision and understanding that culturally, the period looked at is vitally important – and transcends football.
The Walker’s target visitor figure was 30k for the 4 month exhibition, however at the time of our mid-February visit, it did look like that figure had already been achieved. The run ends on 12 March and the final numbers will be yet another confirmation that Liverpool is second-to-none with its creative offering.
Pauline explains: “We’re absolutely delighted with the visitor figures and the types of people who’ve been coming to the show – because it has brought a completely different demographic to the Walker Art Gallery.
“It’s fair to say that before we did this show – The Walker was a place with a fairly middle-class audience. They tend to be our core audience – so they’re repeat visitors. They don’t come in family groups necessarily – they come as individuals or with partners. The family group profile is more down the road at the World Museum, which is more family orientated, because of things like the Aquarium – and its Interactive Centres.
“This doesn’t tend to be a gallery where we get that kind of demographic at all. That’s the demographic we would see at our waterfront venues too, like the Museum of Liverpool which deals with social history – so we were really thrilled that this [exhibition] has brought out people that first of all – have never been to The Walker before, but also some of them have never been to an art gallery before.
“It’s fabulous that they’ve felt able to get over the hurdle of visiting us – and seeing what we’ve got to offer – AND seeing their own culture reflected back to them for the first time. We’ve done it in a serious way – we haven’t just fiddled around the edges. We’ve gone into it in some depth – and I think that’s why some people have appreciated it.”
And there has been endless positive feedback from visitors. The team behind this landmark exhibition have regularly been told: ‘It’s good to see Northern culture. It’s good to see our culture being reflected back – it’s good to see football culture generally – rather than just the sport and the game – the broader things.’
So how did Pauline and her team capture that demographic? How did they alert the non-gallery visiting public that they should come?
Pauline: “With lots of press/media – and a long-lead-in time – and the show’s 4 external partners have been key. Their social media platforms have reached the people we wanted to attract, which we might not have otherwise had access to. It's what we call co-curation.”
And co-curation is not a new phenomenon. Liverpool Museums are constantly working in partnership with others and it’s a model that’s being deployed more and more across the museum and gallery sector.
The incredibly special partners involved with Art of the Terraces are: Dave Hewitson – who, when not leading his Terrace Brand ‘80s Casuals', is also writing and running a vinyl-only record label – and has been at the very heart of Scouse culture for decades.
The Hamburg-based illustrator and designer Jens Wagner, who is an avid football fan – and has worked with numerous football organisations in Germany. Jens’ art practice (moving from digital towards painting) includes numerous works on football and Casuals.
Peter O’Toole is a Huddersfield based graphic designer (and beloved Town supporter). With a background working with ‘Casual’ brands, he has also worked extensively in football-related creative projects.
Also from Huddersfield, Adam Gill is a designer and brand consultant. In recent years, he has paired with Peter to form Grammar Studio, which has an ethos of ‘Classical design training, home-grown graft and an outsider’s perspective to [their] work’
Pauline expands on the partnerships: “We’re allowing people to be the voice of their own cultures, because that’s what works best.
“I’m not part of this [the culture]. I’ve written everything in here – with a good background knowledge of it, but everything’s been passed across the desk to those partners. They’ve looked at everything. They’ve proof-read, they’ve edited, they’ve asked me to put things in or leave things out. Tweaking, so that it's right for them – so they feel comfortable and it’s a true reflection in their eyes of what they see as their culture. I think that’s why the show has been so successful – because we’ve been really authentic about it as much as possible.”
For Pauline, it’s probably fair to say that this exhibition has been thirty years in the making: “The first time I ever saw any of this [youth culture references] was in a show was in 1993 in the ‘Street Style’ exhibition at the V&A. It was all about street cultures and styles, street fashion, music and so on from the 50s onwards. A lot of it was London orientated because it was at the V&A. There was one mannequin with football casual gear on, (obviously they had to be tokenistic because there was a lot of mannequins and they had to fit everything in). There was everything from dancehall style to hip hop and the skater look.
“I thought then: This needs a proper show about it because there’s tonnes more than they’ve shown.
“What we’ve shown is only one aspect – although we’ve got 13 mannequins here. I’ve tried to represent the main brands and looks. The trends – and some of them are even sub-trends – like ‘The Geography Teacher look’ in Liverpool, which was known to a couple of hundred people – but became ubiquitous throughout male dress. Something that niche – we still wanted to include. Lots of people have said “God I used to wear that. That’s me in 1982!”
“I always knew there was mileage in doing a serious show that looked at this whole thing. It’s so important – and it was a massive movement that was going on under the radar for 5 years, before it was even given the label ‘Casuals’ – a label first applied by something largely unconnected – THE FACE magazine.”
The ‘Casual’ culture of the 1980s is the basis of – and responsible for – much of the late twentieth century’s popular culture in terms of fashion, music and style.
An obvious question and perhaps one with an answer we already know, is: 'Why has there not been an exhibition looking at this moment in time previously?'
Pauline is in no doubt: “I think the answer is, it was very much linked with the hooliganism element – and that has been difficult for people to deal with in terms of ‘how do you represent that without glorifying it? I think we’ve managed to do it, because we’ve approached it through artwork. We’ve done it in a more enquiring way. Asking: why do people do that?
“We’re not saying it was good or bad, we’re just saying: Here it is – it’s part of a subculture that people did violent things. Casuals weren’t the only ones. It was there in football before they came along. There’s lots of example from the 60s when there was match violence – so we wanted to give it a ‘proper airing’ but in the right way and ask: What was the reason for it?
“For some people, an alternative to ‘family’ was being part of a gang, especially if you had a dysfunctional family of your own – it was a way to escape from your problems.
“There was a massive economic recession. If you had no job, no hope – if you were on the dole – you lived for Saturday when you went to see your team. You dressed up and the only bit of excitement you might get was running at the opposition across the terraces.
“Much of the serious violence was linked to those other reasons. It wasn’t just for the sake of it – there was a whole lot of other stuff going on behind it and we have tried to explore that. It’s not as simplistic as it looks on the surface.”
The Head of Decorative Arts briefly alludes to Beauts and Scallys – and we have to explore this some more:
“Beauts were people who dressed up. New Romantic/New Wave had a lot of influence in 1979-82. In Liverpool there were two different cultures and two different areas in town where those people would congregate and drink. And the two didn’t meet. You didn’t get caught up in each other’s worlds.
“There were lots of other style tribes in between – Goths, Punks – and they had their own places. Every city had that kind of division.
“But I was aware that these people were in the background – and I was ‘clocking’ a lot of their fashions. I was the Fashion Curator here [at The Walker] originally, so have always had an eye for what everyone is wearing. I still do it now."
The young people wearing casual brands were seen as forward thinking. They were leading fashion and their look, which was being updated constantly was followed closely. Saturday – and the match, was the crucible for ideas.
Pauline is absolutely clear that she’s unfazed looking at subjects that might be seen as controversial or difficult: “This is the one I really wanted to do for years. It came out of Liverpool – so we should be the people doing it.
“The thing that really made the difference is the artwork. It is an art show. It’s not a fashion show. The fashion leads you in and helps you understand where it came from – but the vast majority of the stuff you’ll see is all artworks. That’s why it’s in a gallery – and not the Museum of Liverpool. It’s not a social history show per se – it is bigger than that. We’re asking: What came out of this movement?
A generation of artists, not only from Liverpool or the North West, but arguably across Europe, were either part of – or influenced by the Casuals movement - and that's why an exhibition in a gallery is a perfect fit.
Pauline: “Art galleries are there to produce – to give you an opportunity to look at things. To show you art.
“They’re there to illicit a response from you, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. That’s what art is for: To get someone to say I love this – or I hate this – and why that might be. And it’s to make you think for yourself about lots of things in life. The world. The universe. Everything.
“Art is as broad as that. It’s for everyone. It’s not just for the elite. Art is for anyone and everyone.
“I’m from an ordinary working class background and I never felt that art and access to art was something that wasn’t for me. It was just something I did. We went to museums, galleries and stately homes from a young age and I never felt that it wasn’t for me.
“There are lots of high-profile artists from that same background – and they’re looking at lots of themes, the issues in society – and they’re exploring that through their artwork – and that’s how it should be. It’s not for the elite. [Either the makers or the consumers of art]. It’s for everybody and everyone should feel able to go to their local gallery and have a look around and decide what they think.
This exhibition has reached the places other exhibitions don’t – how will you keep this going? How will you bring people in who maybe do feel disenfranchised?
Pauline continues: “Our next show is about photographer Tom Wood – and he looks at ordinary people in everyday situations as part of his work – and that’s a good example. We’re not going to give people more of the same – we’d like to expand [their] horizons and ask ‘have you ever looked at this? You might like that (things they’ve never thought of).
“First thing is to get them through the door. If they do that and they’re happy to come in – and not intimidated by the classical portal at the front – that’s a WIN. We’ve found that the audience this show has brought in, have then gone on and looked at other works, which they wouldn’t have come in to see. We need to keep doing things that connect with people and bring them in and look at things that they might not have looked at. It’s got to be Access for Everyone. And has to appeal to everybody in some way.”
‘Art of the Terraces’ is at Walker Art Gallery on William Brown Street, Liverpool until 12 March.