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Real Families: Stories of Change

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6 October 2023 - 7 January 2024

Family. It seems like such a simple, familiar concept. And yet the past fifty years have brought far-reaching changes to how families are formed, and how they endure. Some of these changes reflect innovations in science and technology, while others speak to a new acceptance of long suppressed and silenced identities and communities.

Bringing together more than 120 artworks spanning painting, photography, sculpture and film, Real Families: Stories of Change asks us to consider what makes a family today, and the impact our families have on us, through the eyes of contemporary artists.

Alongside major UK and international loans, the exhibition also features historic works by artists including Joshua Reynolds, Nicolas Poussin and Albrecht Dürer to reveal how family life has been portrayed throughout art history. Works by contemporary artists such as Aliza Nisenbaum and JJ Levine challenge the traditional notion of family as made up of two married heterosexual parents and their biological children, while portraits by Celia Paul and Lucian Freud remind us that every family changes over time.

Artists Jim Goldberg, Tracey Emin and Paula Rego are among those whose work challenges the typical ideas of ‘happy’ and ‘unhappy’ families, instead revealing how families are a product of relationships between family members and the environments they live in. Cathy Wilkes, Hardeep Pandhal and others look at how each family leaves its imprint on the next generation – through biological, social and cultural influences.

A spotlight on artist Chantal Joffe brings together ten of her paintings made over the past two decades, capturing the joys, tensions and complexities of her family experience and inviting us to explore the intricacies of modern family relationships.

Developed in collaboration with the world-leading Centre for Family Research in Cambridge, Real Families shows us that what matters most is not the make-up of the family but the quality of family relationships and the social world in which the family exists.


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Image: Chantal Joffe, Me, Em and Nat, 2019. Oil on board © Chantal Joffe. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro.

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