Saturday, 22 November 2008

A ( not so ) Quick Guide to Arts About Manchester

Manchester is an incredibly vibrant, exciting and eclectic city, and its art scene reflects that. However, in a city as large and diverse as this, with several distinct areas just within the city centre, it can get a little overwhelming. 

To counteract this and to help you get the most out of this city has to offer, here's a brief guide to some of the major and not so major galleries around Manchester. 

From the big internationally acclaimed civic institutions through to small artist led galleries and emerging artists cropping up in unlikely places, from the wilds of the Northern Quarter to the cosy enclaves of university campuses, artistically, Manchester has something  for everyone. 

Civic Galleries 

In terms of big civic galleries, there is a plentiful supply. Manchester Art Gallery has a great collection of art, with over 25,000 objects. The gallery has a particularly fine and extensive collection of Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite painting and objects on permanent display, including the seminal painting by Ford Madox Brown, Work. But the gallery is not restricted to the nineteenth century, with a collection spanning six centuries, it also has a significant examples of eighteenth century and contemporary works. Whether you want to gaze upon William Blake or Lucian Freud, there is something for you. 

Located on Moseley Street, just opposite the central library and St. Peters Square - as well as on the very edge of China Town - Manchester Art Gallery is housed in two fine Victorian buildings. These building are joined together with a stunning glass atrium and stair well area, designed by the award winning architect Sir Michael Hopkins, and opened in 2002 to critical acclaim.

The atrium itself has been used as a space to display art work, as demonstrated this summer by these amazing sculptures by Korean artist Choe U Ram.

Current temporary exhibitions include the block busting Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision, which is accompanied by a display of Pre-Raphaelite Works on Paper from the Collection.

Totally different but equally exalted is Urbis, which stands out in the middle of Manchester's shopping melee pit like neatly crash landed spaceship. Striking up into the ( often) gloomy Manchester sky it looks like a cousin of the Pompidou Centre with it's guts tucked in. 

Incredibly trendy, Urbis styles itself as a " exhibition centre about city life." The current exhibition displays the political works Emory Douglas, the first and only Black Panther Minister for Culture. 

Housing a popular cafe, a top floor restaurant which offers unequalled views of the city, as well the painfully cool, seasonal bar The North Pole located in an adjacent marquee, Urbis is a social, as well as cultural, hub. 

The Cornerhouse, nestling next to the Oxford Road Station, has, along with its cinema, book shop and bar facilities, three floors of dedicated exhibition space. 

Unfortunately the quality of the exhibits can be quite variable, positive reaction Masaki Fujihata exhibition was undermined by the current exhibition, The Interwining Line

The downstairs cafe-bar area, which affords an unrivalled people-watching panorama across the hurly burly of Oxford Road, currently features stills from the Academy Award nominated animated film, Persepolis

Not to be forgotten is the Chinese Arts Centre in the Northern Quarter. The Chinese Arts Centre is the international agency for the development and promotion of contemporary Chinese artists. 

Commercial Galleries

Sometimes it's fun to see how the other half live, and even more fun to pretend to be them. Not everyone has the dosh to take a trip to a commercial art gallery as a customer, but that shouldn't stop you having a good nose around. The city centre has several interesting commercial art galleries, most notably the two Richard Goodall Galleries in the Northern Quarter and the Philips Art Gallery on Tib Street. 

Richard Goodall Gallery's first location is on Thomas Street, which claims to be the UK's leading fine art photography, limited edition silk screen rock poster art and low brow art emporium. To you and me that's very expensive posters and toys. Still it's nice to see what the ├╝ber trendy lot spend their money on. 

The more recognisable arty face of RGG is the Contemporary Gallery, located in a specially built, state of the art building on High Street in the Northern Quarter. In real terms it's just by that weird set of flats with the old market facade and just opposite Sweet Mandarin.

Currently on show are the stunning photographs of Jamie Baldridge , recently reviewed for, this exhibitions finishes on the 7th of December. This crowd pleasing show is to be followed by an exhibition which promises to be even more popular, in the wildly sought-after illustrator Nicoletta Ceccoli's largest exhibition to date. The galleries' flickr photostream gives a good sense of what the gallery space is like and what kind of exhibits they put on. 

Although not nearly on the scale of the Richard Goodall Galleries, the Philips Art Gallery is worth a visit. Hidden away on Tib Street, this tiny, charming space is always full of a broad and interesting selection of art. The displayed work are refreshingly unfashionable, ranging from contemporary representative and impressionist works, through to fifties and vorticist paintings. Their Christmas Exhibition opens on the 27th of November and runs until the 20th of December. 

Artist Run Galleries

There are two great artist run galleries, the Castlefield Gallery and International 3. Opening this week at the Castlefield Gallery is a solo sculpture exhibition by Laura White called If I had a Monkey I wouldn't need a TV.

University Run Galleries 

Moving away from the city centre and up Oxford Road, the universities unsurprisingly provide a couple of great art venues. Manchester Metropolitan University has a sequence of gallery spaces on it's All Saints Campus, such as The Holden Gallery, which recently housed the Third Manchester Artists' Book Fair. Continuing the bookish theme, this gallery currently contains an exhibition called Reflective Stories, displaying examples of sketchbooks and journals from all levels of art practitioners. Reflective Stories continues to the 12th of December.

Just up the stairs and around the corner from the Holden Gallery is the criminally under used Link Gallery. The gallery currently contains works by current and former students of the Interactive Arts course, in a practically named, Interactive Arts Alumni Exhibition, recently preview on

Any discussion about the arts around Manchester with out mentioning the Whitworth Art Gallery would be deplorable. This stunning red brick Victorian building is located on Oxford Road by Whitworth Park and is part of the University of Manchester. 

It is home to some of the UK's finest collections of art and design including modern and historic fine art, prints, textiles and a rare collection of wallpapers. It's current and eclectic season of temporary display includes the stunning Putting on the Glitz, a celebration of burnished wallcoverings - an exhibition opened by Laurence Llwelyn-Bown earlier this month - and cloth & culture NOW, an unrivalled textile art exhibition featuring works from artists hailing from through-out Europe and Asia. Cloth & culture NOW is closing December 12th. 

Arty Pubs

These are just a few examples of the more traditional places you can find art around Manchester. If your looking for more edgy, atypical art there is a whole plethora of less typical places to try. For example the recent Illuminations exhibit which was held in a disused building on Whitworth Street West. 

However, its the city's pubs, bars and assorted drinking holes which often turn up trumps. Common in the Northern Quarter has a frequently changing decor supplied by emerging artists and illustrators. Strange Manchester staples of Odd and Odder have always had arty feel, and now Odder holds monthly exhibitions, providing an opportunity for local artists and designers to exhibit their work for free. 

The famous Matt & Phred's Jazz Club in the Northern Quarter currently has on display a selection of images entered in the Shot Up North photography awards. 

If you like your art with a little more narrative, you should head over to The Lass O'Gowrie. This classic Victorian pub, just off Oxford Road by the BBC,  has a changing display of comic book art in the snug, currently featuring Adrian Salmon's Cybermen comics for Doctor Who Magazine. 

Art Resources 

This is only representative of a tiny selection of venues to see art around Manchester and as the end of the year approaches, old exhibitions taken down and new put in their place, this information will date very quickly. 

However, do not despair, since Manchester is served by some great arts resources. 

The first is the Arts List, covering every genre of visual and performative art, this is the definitive listings for the Manchester area. 

Another useful resource to keep an eye on is Though the arts section is still, somewhat, in development, it promises to improve quickly. The online version of the Manchester Evening News supplement, it provides previews, news and reviews about entertainment and arts around the city, as well as competitions. 

The Art Guide is seemingly a resource with yet untapped potential. Formerly the Castlefield Gallerys e-flyer, it provides details of many grassroots arts activities, as well as links to various arts organisations and collectives in the North-West. 

There are probably many other great venues that I've failed to include, and if you feel I have left something significant out, be reassured it was not out of spite and please let me know via comments. 


... for now. 

All images in this posting are used under Creative Commons, and sourced from Flickr

Manchester Art Gallery by Zaw Towers.
Urbis by Max Blinkhorn
Cornerhouse by Zaw Towers
Whitworth Art Gallery by Chupacabra Viranesque.  


Anonymous said...

Makes me want to live in Manchester! Hope others are reading this blog . . .

Brian Gorman said...

Wish I lived in Manchester.
..Oh. I do.

El Conquistador said...

well hot damn.ive heard sandwiches in manchester are great in height, magnificent in width, and a delight for the stomach.Not so sure about the art scene though. Yet you seem well versed in its creative commerce, and i take your comments as valid empirical evidence in its value. You see, I prefer to swish my sword around the galleries instead of absorbing their artworks. Cocking my magnificent mustachio'd head backwards, i slash the air and spar with the shadows; perhaps i could enjoy manc art, but that would involve me dropping my gauntlet and bowing to another's dance;which would never do! Now i must pass from here, i have a duel with a sparrow pencilled ('quilled' actually) into my leatherbound log (captain's, of course), and must prepare for this ornithological death match. All being well, by dawn my enemy shall be vanquished, and my mouth full of feathers.Perhaps with my soul humbled by victory, the winds of art will allow it to be set to sail, like the zephyr to my galleon, once the good men of the deck have drawn in the anchor of pride.Whenceforth we drift in aesthetic bliss,with no illusory goal or resolve to set our eyes on, as we move to meet, merge and dissolve in the horizon. And then eat some eggs. Perhaps, with pepper or, (to really push the galleon out) bernaise sauce. Farewell art maiden. PS Yes, id love to come to dinner tonight, and aquiesce to your vegginess