Becky Beasley

Curtains (I), (II), (III)


Not on display

Becky Beasley born 1975
3 photographs, gelatin silver prints on paper
Image, each: 1810 × 705 mm
frame: 1970 × 864 × 60 mm
Purchased with funds provided by Alireza Abrishamchi 2019


Becky Beasley’s Curtains (I), (II), (III) 2009 is a black and white photographic triptych comprising three large gelatin siver prints which are each almost two metres high by one metre across. They are framed separately using pale green acrylic glass, in order to incorporate colour without adding tone to the prints themselves; they are displayed with space between them so that they do not abut. Each of the photographs depicts a hanging curtain, made by printing only the outer edges of an image of a pale, grey curtain and joining the two prints together, with a vertical seam down the middle, to make a single, portrait-format photograph.

Curtains (I), (II), (III) was first shown as part of an exhibition titled German Soup at Laura Bartlett Gallery, London in 2009. In this exhibition Beasley explored her interest in the work of the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard (1931–1989), who in turn was fascinated by the work of Glenn Gould (1932–1982), the celebrated Canadian pianist. The title of the exhibition refers to a play by Bernhard in which a character struggles to make a seemingly simple decision between two types of soup.

The title of each part of Curtains contains a section of a quote from Glenn Gould about the issue of decision making in performance and the creative process. When the three photographs are displayed alongside each other, in order, the quote can be read in full, but the quote is fragmented otherwise. The relationship of the whole to the fragment is of great interest to Beasley, and this is reflected in the way in which Curtains (I), (II), (III) has been editioned so that Curtains exists at once as a triptych and as three individual pieces. Produced in an edition of two, the first of which must be regarded as three individual works, the second edition – Tate’s copy – must be kept together as a single three-part work. Furthermore the triptych can be shown in any permutation. Beasley has written about why this is important to her: ‘I am profoundly interested in ambiguity in relation to how choices are made in life and this [Curtains] is the key work which relates to this. The owner of the triptych can thus make the full range of choices for exhibition.’ (Email correspondence between the artist and Tate curator Helen Delaney, 15 January 2019.)

The narrow proportions of the photographs have an almost figurative suggestion. Their dimensions are based on the width of Beasley’s father’s shoulders and, once framed and hung, his current height, which she estimated to be nine centimentres less than when he was a younger man. The curtain itself appears to be represented actual size and this, coupled with the resolutely portrait format and bodily dimensions, gives the photographs a powerfully sculptural presence. Deep shadows in the folds of the fabric cultivate a strong sense of three-dimensionality, while the objects themselves have a shallow depth. Beasley has said that she ‘asks sculptural questions of photography and photographic questions of sculpture’. The play between three-dimensional depth, sculptural presence and photographic imagery explored in Curtains (I), (II), (III) exemplifies this line of enquiry.

Since 2009, Curtains has been shown in a number of exhibitions including Claire Barclay, Becky Beasley and Karla Black at Spike Island, Bristol in 2011, Accidentally on Purpose at Quard, Derby in 2012 and 25 YEARS! SHARED HISTORIES, SHARED STORIES at Fotomuseum Winterthur in 2018.

Further reading
Structure & Material: Claire Barclay, Becky Beasley, Karla Black, exhibition pamphlet, Arts Council Collection exhibition, London 2011.

Helen Delaney
January 2019

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