don’t miss….Year 3 by Steve McQueen at Tate Britain

Steve McQueen ‘s Year 3 at Tate Britain

Happy New Year!

In this article I am going to tell you how I ended up at the exhibition ‘Year 3‘ by Steve McQueen by a happy accident.

On a dull grey Saturday when the Christmas festivities were all over I headed to London for some art education. I waved goodbye to my son at Victoria station as he headed back to Vancouver after a Christmas visit, and walked down to Tate Britain to see the William Blake exhibition.

The pollarded plane trees outside the gallery were tight and knobbly.

I headed down into the lower gallery to see the exhibition. I have often struggled to appreciate the work of the old masters. My preference is for modern abstract works. But being a member of Artspring Gallery has made me wish to learn more about drawing and painting and to appreciate the skills involved. I therefore felt that I should make the effort to see this show about one of the great masters of drawing and painting. Get myself an education…..

It was dark, and crowded in the exhibition rooms. Dark and crowded do not feature in my comfort zone. The crowds led me to feel irritable. I realised that I had no appetite for observing the fine drawings and fantastical stories in this environment. Incredible as they are, I moved hastily through the galleries.

William Blake relief printed book.

I needed something more uplifting and colourful on this dull grey winter’s day.

I exited the gallery and walked upstairs.

The stairs were cheerful. My mood improved. Environment is so important….

Tate britain interior

Stumbling into the Duveen gallery, I was immediately captivated by the sight of hundreds of photographs of children filling the gallery walls.

An exhibit by Steve McQueen entitled ‘Year 3’. One that I had not known was there.

year 3 exhibition by steve mcQueen at Tate Britain
Year 3 by Steve McQueen

Arranged over two rooms are photographs of over 76,000 London schoolchildren. Year 3 children, aged 7 and 8, with their teachers. Two thirds of London primary schools took part in the project, and it is a joy to browse the images of such a diverse group. At this age children begin to become aware of the world outside their families and friendship groups.

In conjunction with Artangel, the photographs appeared on billboards across London in November.


Reminiscent of school photos, but taken by a team of Tate photographers who spent time with each group before clicking the shutter. We can all identify with the scenario and have memories of being arranged for class or school photos. The children are the stars of this show. Some children appear happy, some quizzical and some plain bored. They may be tidy, messy or half way in between. Some proud and some anxious. There is so much to read in the faces on the walls. As a social documentary this exhibition has impact far beyond the multitude of frames on the wall. It is also a reminder of the power of repetition and of how a simple idea can lead to big results.

The teachers are equally diverse; some smiling and friendly. Others solemn and serious. Special needs schools are included; in one photo there is just one pupil and 5 staff members, in others one teacher and 32 pupils. All these children are part of our future. The inclusivity and celebration of diversity is uplifting.

some of the schools in the year 3 project.

Private and state schools, single sex and mixed. With uniforms and without. So much can be read into these photographs. It was evident that they resonate with the many children that I witnessed peering into the photographs.

year 3 exhibition by steve mcQueen at Tate Britain

The gallery requests that no children be photographed individually in order to protect their identity, and for this reason the images below are sourced.

Fot the same reasons schools are not identified, which has the advantage of removing any bias in the viewer’s judgement that names and location might create.

You can only imagine what sort of school is being portrayed by the background, clothes and faces of the pupils and their teachers.

I left the gallery feeling uplifted at this unexpected and ambitious exhibition. The Duveen gallery is a beautiful space to show this work.

The exhibition is free to visit, and I for one I will go back for more. It is open until 3rd May 2020.

You can find out more about it here

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