25/07/2009 — 12/09/2009


Picturing the social order 1516 - 2009

Mark Titchner, 'No Them Only Us', 2009

Courtesy Vilma Gold, London and Peres Projects, Berlin

Who do we think 'we' are? 'Rank' asked: how have we imagined the shape of our society?  This was the first ever exhibition to examine how British artists - and many others - have represented the shape of their society from the Renaissance to the present. It brought together nearly 100 contributors, placing masterpieces from almost all England's national collections - the British Library, Tate, British Museum, V&A and Arts Council Collection - next to images made for the urban poor from the Working Class Movement Library, and those for Victorian middle-class collectors from libraries and archives.


'Rank' revealed the shape of our society through objects from different social strata, as well as representations of 'ranks', 'classes', 'orders' and 'estates'.  WP Frith's 'Derby Day', shows what was described as "a gathering clearly subversive of the proper distinctions which should always in a well-governed country exist between class and class."  'Rank' mixed objects which occupy different positions in our hierarchy of images.  It also juxtaposed works by some of the greatest names in British art with new research from academic experts and public agencies, so that pictures of our myths and stereotypes of our national life sat alongside those based on hard fact.  All sought to visualise the ways in which our societies are and have been ordered and classified.


Installation images of RANK: Picturing the Social Order 1519 - 2009 can be seen here. 

The exhibition was organised by Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland, and kindly supported by the Arts Council England Touring Programme. 


Read review on the Times Online