Last Friday, after failing to find someone to accompany me through twitter, I went to see the Da Vincis in Manchester Art Gallery.
Some of my favourite art displays are within institutions which take their pattern from older institutions and collections. I don't look back on the time I lived in Oxford with much fondness, apart from a few glorious summer days spent in Headington Hill Park and some nice evenings in The Star. However, I do miss having the Ashmolean, the two Science Museums, as well as naturally the Pitt Rivers, handy.
This is perhaps why I like Manchester Art Gallery, there is a certain quirky eclecticism which I find is often missing from more contemporary civic art institutions. ( *cough* Urbis * cough*)
The sequence of rooms in which the Da Vincis were placed reminded me of pleasantly lethargic afternoons spent in Ashmolean.
First, is the room with Paul Morrison's Parthenocarp installation. There is something wonderfully generous about the staging of this painting, the expanse of floor you drift around as the image looms above and to the left and right of you. You are engulfed. It is unsettling, not in an unpleasant sense, but because it levers you out of you comfort zone, tipping you slightly off kilter and into a new position that takes a moment to get used to. Space is always at such a premium, it's glorious to have a bit of room to have an intellectual stretch in.
Parthenocarp is like a theatre back drop, and despite being a beautiful amalgamation of images, is oddly lacking depth and reflects attention onto the the inhabitants of the gallery.
There is a rather lovely collection of photographs of Parthenocarp going up on Manchester Art Gallery's Flickr page.
After a short queue, they let you into the Da Vinci room. I really don't have that much to say about these. They are beautiful drawings, and there is always something tremendous about being near something so old and of such repute. I like the skulls. I liked the darken, hushed room. A bit like being at the death bed of a Victorian matriarch.
I honestly have to say the second high light of my visit, after my dip into Parthencarp, was spilling out into a design gallery I have never seen before. Though there was far too much interpretative silliness, big shiny things stating the eye-bleedingly obvious, it was just the type of engrossing collection of objects which you found in the Ashmolean.
Apart from done better. Nice and shiny. The beautiful and the odd jostled together, and there were more than enough teapots to keep me happy.
All Manchester needs now is some really bizarre anthropological collections. But it is a happy realisation that for most things, for old art, for new art, for design and for tonnes of stuffed animals, Manchester easily kicks Oxfords arse.
Which I guess is me stating the bloody obvious.
Manchester: 1 / Oxford: 0