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In the Peaceful Dome

In the Peaceful Dome is the final exhibition in a programme celebrating the tercentenary of Bluecoat, the UK’s oldest arts centre and Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, housed in the oldest building in Liverpool’s World Heritage Site.

In the Peaceful Dome

In the Peaceful Dome (Friday 13 October 2017 – Sunday 25 March 2018) takes the idea of Bluecoat as a continually evolving building – from charity school to the UK’s first arts centre – and looks afresh at the institution, some of the art it has presented and debates it has engaged with through the years.

The exhibition traces threads that connect Bluecoat’s history with the present through a combination of new commissions, existing work including significant loans from public and private collections, and archival material. The exhibition is structured around five main themes:

  • The building, its iconic architecture and the passing of time
  • Global trade and legacies of Empire
  • Modernism and the fine and applied arts
  • Artists’ responses to war and gender
  • The gallery as a continuing site for critical engagement

The exhibition features work by local, national and international artists. Highlights include:

  • Jacob Epstein’s Genesis, previously exhibited at Bluecoat in 1931 when almost 50,000 visitors paid sixpence each to see the controversial sculpture. Loaned from the Whitworth, it has remade the journey it took from Manchester 86 years ago, and is accompanied in the gallery by documentary material relating to its first showing at Bluecoat. Continuing Bluecoat’s history of arts patronage, Genesis is also be the focus of a crowdfunding campaign. The campaign invites the public to support the exhibition by contributing towards the costs of the sculpture’s journey from Manchester to Liverpool.
  • Alongside Genesis, Jo Stockham revisits sculptures and prints she first displayed at Bluecoat in 1990, a response to war and nuclear proliferation, informed by feminism and peace studies.
  • Work by members of the Sandon Studios Society, the pioneering arts group that established Bluecoat as an arts centre, including Roderick Bisson and Edward Carter Preston, with rarely seen and historically significant early Modernist paintings; Will C Penn’s 1920s/30s painted portraits of black men in Liverpool; caricatures by Edgar Grosvenor, including a ‘Sandon Vamp’; an arts & craft bookplate designed by Fanny Calder who was instrumental in establishing and securing the building for the arts; and Julia Carter Preston’s distinctive s’graffito ceramics.
  • Printed text works by Nathan Jones, Sean Borodale, Sumuyya Khader and Juniper Press are presented on The Grantchester Pottery’s specially designed wallpaper installation.
  • Dan Coopey’s elegant ‘basket’ objects created using archaic crafting methods.
  • Joanne Masding’s new installation continuing her ongoing critique of the museum and notions of cultural certainty.
  • Film works by Uriel Orlow and Grace Ndiritu, a reclamation of colonial histories and a reminder of Bluecoat’s philanthropic origins supported from maritime trade.
  • Janet Hodgson’s film works exploring Bluecoat and the passing of time, shown with other printed, photographed and imagined representations of the building’s architecture by John Davies, Edmund Tan and others.

The exhibition title is taken from William Roscoe’s 1770 poem Mount Pleasant, written when Bluecoat was a school providing succor in its ‘peaceful dome’:

 – Yon calm retreat, where screened from every ill,

The helpless orphan’s throbbing heart lies still;

And finds delighted, in the peaceful dome,

A better parent, and a happier home.

The exhibition sets out to highlight the dichotomy of arts institutions as accessible and welcoming – ‘happier homes’ – but also as places that challenge and problematise.

With Bluecoat’s own history marked by an uneven engagement with Modernism, and an improvisatory approach to arts programming, the exhibition also aims to provoke thinking about contemporary exhibition-making and its relationship to time, place and history.

Liverpool’s fortunes have changed dramatically over the past three centuries, and the Bluecoat building, undergoing profound change itself, has had a symbiotic relationship to the port: reflecting its economic fortunes and cultural shifts, connecting the local and global, and developing a dynamic relationship with audiences through art. In the Peaceful Dome will continue Bluecoat’s reflection, through its heritage and exhibitions, on both this local history and the wider world.

As well as including artists’ and curator’s talks, an events programme accompanying In the Peaceful Dome will interrogate the future function of arts centres and their civic role, legacies of Transatlantic slave trade and Bluecoat’s historical relationship to these.


Event Date: Friday 13th October – Sunday 8th April 2018


Location: Bluecoat, liverpool

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