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'Year 3: Steve McQueen' Review - Tate Britain

Tate Britain 12th November 2019 – 3rd May 2020



With more than 76,000 portraits of London’s seven and eight-year olds, Steven McQueen’s Year 3 provides a highly engaging and inspiring reflection on the future of this city. Bittersweet and moving, McQueen’s exhibition successfully emphasises the diversity of our youth and the importance of preserving an all-encompassing and exciting education system.

Portrait of Steve McQueen at Tate Britain. © Tate, Jessica McDermott

[endif]--What is most striking about Year 3 is the diversity shown across the portraits. The children photographed come from a wide range of backgrounds and the exhibition highlights how these children all have a part to play in our future despite their race, class or dis/ability. A wide variety of schools were photographed by McQueen’s team including state, independent, special needs and dis/ability, and pupil referral units. This is strongly noticeable in the exhibition as each picture is different: class sizes, uniforms and faces change from image to image. Some show single sex schools, others mixed. McQueen's inclusion of special needs and disability schools emphasises that these children are as much a part of our future as the children in the other photos and should have access to art in the same way. The large variation in the different types of schools shows that at just the ages of seven and eight, children in London are having widely different experiences, ones which will have a strong impact on their futures.

Young visitors to Year 3. © Tate

[endif]--Visiting Year 3, I was overwhelmed by the engagement of this exhibition. The room was flooded with children on school trips; all of them excited by the bright colours and the fact that they were in the pictures. McQueen’s main success in this exhibition has been engaging seven and eight-year olds from all backgrounds in art, showing them that it is something they can be part of. Adults at the museum were also clearly engaged, many looking for children they knew in the pictures. The exhibition gives a huge sense of nostalgia. The pictures are in the traditional form of a school photograph; the children mainly stood based on height order in front of displays of their art or PE equipment. This reminded me, and clearly many of the other adults there, of my own childhood and showed that despite advances in technology and changes to the education system, some things do stay the same. This highlights that the education system in this country is something that needs to be preserved and invested in, giving all children equal opportunities.

Year 3 Class Photographs © Steve McQueen and Tate

McQueen’s Year 3 is exciting and moving. The diversity shown in each of the pictures paired with strong engagement shows these children that, no matter their background, they can be involved in art. This is something that McQueen wanted to showcase in his exhibition. Reflected by his own personal history; as a dyslexic child, considered fit only for manual labour by his secondary school, he aims to show the children in these photos they can follow the same success. Moreover, the wide variety of schools photographed in this exhibition emphasises that education is something that must be invested in to give all children equal opportunities. This is something that with funding cuts to education over the last decade, is becoming less the case. McQueen’s exhibition, however, gives an inspiring view. The photos are bright, all the children are smiling, and Year 3 reflects these children’s excitement and hope. Diversity here is celebrated, and McQueen shows that this can be the case despite our politically turbulent times.

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor


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