Urbanization and the City Image in Lowry at Tate Britain: Towards a Critique of Cultural Cityism


This article explores cultural cityism at a time when a more expansive, ‘planetary’ urbanization is argued to have superseded ‘the city’ as the dominant urban form. It takes an essentially Lefebvrian problematic and works this through an examination of one aspect of contemporary metropolitan culture, the L.S. Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain, held in the summer of 2013. The article scrutinizes the juxtaposition of Lowry’s images of the industrial city with the image of ‘global’, corporate London provided by Tate Britain itself. The exhibition is presented as evidence of Lefebvre’s argument that although the urban core has imploded and exploded, through images the city ‘can perpetuate itself, survive its conditions’. Taking stock also of the preponderance of city images in culture more widely, it is argued such images make a fetish of the city, producing also an ‘urban pastoral’ that obscures the defining characteristics of urban life today. Finally, Benjamin’s concept of the ‘dialectical image’ and Rancière’s notion of the ‘sentence image’ are invoked to capture the flashing together of past and present city images and the opportunities for critical reflection this constellation presents.