Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Fridays trip to Manchester Art Gallery: Parthenocarp, Da Vinci and random design stuff

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

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Love Lies Lost @ Royal Exchange

My current mood re: Valentines Day is essentially: blah, so what?

I'm not generally an anti-love harridan - as opposed to any other type of harridan - so why should I find the trails and travails of singledom any worst today? Lovey dovey couples and false corporately sponsored gesture of affection are bloody annoying any day of the year. 

Frankly, it's nice to have a year free from worrying about what to get who, when and how to do it, although another ceramic ghost would be nice. 

However, I do feel somewhat fortified against this bullshitty day by my recent trip to the Royal Exchange to see Love Lies Lost

What a gloriously rude and crazy play, despite the slightly wavering and mental accents. Luckily I don't think the Canadian accent is well known enough in this country to really bother most of the audience. 

Beautifully paced, the plot unfolded in a way which was both pleasing and unexpected. At moments hilarious, the emotional moments were not marred by pendulous sentimentalism. 

It's also fun trying to spot who will not return after the interval. 

So, Love Lies Lost: it's a fresh, ribald and intelligent play, drawing it's comedy from an unusually dark and thoughtful place. I'd definitely recommend it if swearing and fucking on tables doesn't bother you. 

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Subversive Spaces @ Whitworth Art Gallery

George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion: The Swing, 2002/3

On Friday night I breezed into the Whitworth, without invitation, my blaggers gait set to maximum. People diligently studied the pictures in the foyer, despite them being the same exhibition from the Putting on the Glitz opening.

People buzzed about happily - “Nicholas Serota is here!” There was a real fizzle and spark in the air about Subversive Spaces at the Whitworth Art Gallery. Fizzy wine was flowing, cup cakes with ‘EAT ME’ and ‘KILL ME’ were doing the rounds.

It took a few minutes, and a glass of fizz, before I realised I could enter the exhibition.

This might be ( to a certain extent) an art blog, but I’m personally I’m pretty discriminating about what I like. Some people might say punitively so.  Surrealism is not one of the things I like. It’s too cerebral, and the product of it - dare I say it - are mostly rather ugly and exclusive. This blog is becoming a list of my preconceptions and prejudices.

Anyway, Subversive Spaces. If you like surrealism and being all Freudian you’ll bloody love this exhibition.

Anna Gaskell, Untitled ( Hide) 47, 1999

To be honest, I was never going to be the choir about this exhibition. However, I do think there is something wonderful about how jam packed Subversive Spaces is, and among the rather tired objects there are some really remarkable objects.

For every two things I thought were tired, trite and pretentious, there was something which I found moving. As much as I hate Dali, I am always stunned by the photography of Brassaï. The paintings of children’s play equipment by George Shaw are really evocative.

Anyway, as I wandered out of the exhibition I realised that the opening speeches had started. There was Nicholas Serota giving a speech. Nicholas Serota! He’s even cooler than Lawrence Llwelyn-Bowen or Mark Lawson!

How did such a boring man get so far? I could tell you some details of his speech, but his droning monologue was of such a cadence it drifted right through my mind with out a single phrase taking permanent hold.

So anyway, fizzy wine, cakes and minor art celebrities. What an evening!

I’ve yet to see Kinderzimmer, the toast of the exhibition. The “major” new commission by Gregor Schneider. Will let you know.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Witness: Women War Artist @ Imperial War Museum North

Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech-ring by Dame Laura Knight

Normally I bristle at overly curated shows, find the minute directions cloying and the didacticism claustrophobic. I am not praising the white box method, but I do seem to have set myself quite firmly against current habits of display.

However, what is clear is that when things are done well it’s a whole different ball game, as is the case with Witness: Women War Artists exhibition at Imperial War Museum North.

The tightly, but not aggressively, controlled space and the selection of images combined symbiotically, meaning I was genuinely drawn into and moved by this exhibition. 

Worth it for the paintings related to the second world war alone, the sheer number of amazing paintings is actually quite stunning - highlights including the stunning The Dock, Nuremberg, 1946 by Laura Knight, A Shell Forge by Anna Airy and numerous prints and sketches of war time life. 

Linda Kitson though - blah... 

Witness: Women War Artists opens today and continues until 19 April 2009. 

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

February's Manchester Social Media Cafe

Tonight was another cracking Social Media Cafe at the Northern. Despite fleeing the scene early due to lurgy and missing the best bit of the boozing and schmoozing, I really enjoyed Adrian Slatcher’s presentation.

Titled “From yahoos to Yahoo - from Ulysses to UGC,” it was a rather enjoyable meander through experimental and innovative literature and the ways it points to our current informational age and future.

As a nineteenth century junky, his talk nicely bookended the period of my obsession, drawing together the fantastical, social commentary of Swift with the queer rantings of Burroughs.

As a pure bread geek, it was refreshing to mingle in the comic vision of Douglas Adams. Once the idea that the Hitchhikers Guide prefiguring Wikipedia was mooted, like all the best observations, seemed stunningly obvious. Sadly, I couldn't show off my geek cred and get a Neal Stephenson discussion in there.

It was nice to have a break from the corporate solutions and down ‘n’ dirty geekery which was on offer in the last Social Media Cafe. ( Not that there's anything wrong with either of those!)

To be frank my slightly fever tinged brain was wandering off on an excursion - wondering whether current browsing habits could be applied to the behaviours see in Poe’s ‘Man of the Crowd.’ I think the internet makes us all flăneurs.

Thanks to Adrian for a refreshing, gently academic and thought provoking presentation.