Who do we think ‘we’ are? How have we imagined the shape of our society? It is the first ever exhibition to examine how British artists – and many others – have represented the shape of their society from the Renaissance to the present. It brings together nearly 100 contributors, placing masterpieces from almost all England’s national collections – the British Library, Tate, British Museum, V&A and Arts Council Collection – next to images made for the urban poor from the Working Class Movement Library, and those for Victorian middle-class collectors from libraries and archives. ‘Rank’ reveals the shape of our society through objects from different social strata, as well as representations of ‘ranks’, ‘classes’, ‘orders’ and ‘estates’.
In the catalogue, Polly Toynbee says: “This timely exhibition is a powerful reminder that although rank, status. class and hierarchy are as much with us now as ever, we have lost the language and the imagery to describe it. It has become the great unmentionable in an era where the right to vote and the imagined opportunity for anyone to make it to the top masquerades as equality”.