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Dreams Without Frontiers and MCR Art Gallery Row

William Robinson is moved by a new exhibition and Jonathan Schofield asks the director questions

Published on July 24th 2012.


Dreams Without Frontiers and MCR Art Gallery Row

CURATED in partnership with DJ Dave Haslam, a new exhibition of work by international contemporary artists Cyprien Gaillard and Kelley Walker studies the effects of post-industrialism and failed utopianism on popular culture.

In this exhibition Morrissey is a symbol of the effects of post-industrialism on popular culture 

Neither artist is from Manchester. Walker, who lives and works in New York, has never visited the city.

However, it is easy to spot the parallels between Manchester's modernist architecture and the brutalist tower blocks of the New Jersey shoreline in Gaillard's short film 'The Smithsons', 2005. The highlight of the exhibition, 'The Smithsons' depicts sixties high-rise towers filmed at dusk, which seem to rise out of – or fall into – the dense woodland which surrounds them. The piece examines man's relationship with nature and the effects of nature on human construction  – both key themes in Gaillard's work. 

Smithsons - Sing me to sleepSmithsons - Sing me to sleep

Accompanied by The Smiths' single, 'Asleep', there is almost a feeling of regret about the film. Its name refers in part to Alison and Peter Smithson, who coined the term “Brutalist” in 1953. They, and many other architects, saw the movement as a utopian opportunity for equality and honesty, but by the 1970s and 80s it became symbolic of a failing economy and increasing levels of unemployment. The uncompromising view of New Jersey in 'The Smithsons' could easily be a residential area of Manchester.

Dave Haslam has said about the exhibition:

“In the late 1970s, in Manchester's landscape of empty warehouses, derelict factories and high-rise housing, there was a sense of alienation and uncertainty. This trauma was something felt in other cities round the world, but Manchester's post-punk soundtracked it in a particularly potent way.”

The tower blocks in 'The Smithsons' are echoed by Kelley Walker's canvases, on which are collaged pages from Andy Warhol's 'Interview' magazine in a brick pattern. Each is the height of Walker standing on a brick. This reference to the artist's presence highlights his absence, creating a sense of dereliction. We are left facing remnants of popular culture, magazine pages, and ourselves, distorted in the reflection of Walker's sculpture 'LZW'.

Also featured in his installation is an opened out sleeve of The Smiths' single 'Panic' with the record cut up next to it, tying in the Manchester theme once again. The B-side, 'Vicar In A Tutu' features the lyric “I am a living sign”, and it would seem that in this exhibition Morrissey is a symbol of the effects of post-industrialism on popular culture. 

PanicPanic

Walker's series of screen prints, 'Andy Warhol Doesn't Play Second Base For The Chicago Cubs' and a reflective metal cylinder in the centre of the gallery floor, named 'LZW' after a data compression algorithm, refer to marketing and advertising which have become integral parts of the music industry. 

A 1980s copy of The Sun shows the headline: “I'd shoot my son if he had AIDS, says vicar!”. Nostalgia is inherent in the study of failed architectural idealism, and the brick canvases by Walker feature magazine pages dating from 1969 to 2011. 

Aside from the references to its music, Manchester is rarely explicitly referred to, yet something of the spirit of the city is implied. Therefore the poignancy of 'Dreams Without Frontiers' seems not to be confined to a Mancunian audience; its ideas and themes are universal. 

The exhibition is on display on the ground floor, Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street until May 2013. Entry is free. Web

What's happening at Manchester Art Gallery? The Director responds to Jonathan Schofield.

Confidential has been getting complaints.

Readers, and other city commentators, are worried about the artistic and curatorial direction of the Gallery.

Under Maria Balshaw, who also runs the Whitworth Art Galllery, we've had people asking if Manchester Art Gallery is in danger of losing identity and not showing off enough of the permanent collection. For example the twentieth century galleries have disappeared as other works take over on a temporary basis.

Meanwhile the Manchester Gallery - more a local history space but still a wonderful resource for tourists - now houses the two Haslam curated spaces described by William Robinson above. 

"The historic collections have to sit with the new," says Balshaw in reply. "I want to do the best with the collections we've got. With the Manchester Gallery we're going to be putting the works that were there out through the galleries so that visitors see them in a new light in relation to other works and artefacts from other periods. It's about balance I agree, but I can assure people the big hitters will remain. The favourites aren't going away. 

"This summer we've been unbalanced I concede," Balshaw says. "We've had the We Face Forward exhibition which was our really huge gesture welcoming West African art in Olympic year. We wanted that to be really special. Things will settle down with the New Contemporaries gallery and the exhibitions of the works of Hogarth and Holbein coming along. Galleries can't stand still. We have to keep providing interest and innovation, we have to keep them fresh so they appeal to fresh audiences without alienating the regulars."

She's right about that and she's right about balance, but in Manchester Art Gallery that's a difficult thing to achieve. It's a different space from the Whitworth Art Gallery which Maria Balshaw also directs. As the formal (some might say traditional) gallery many people expect to see the famous names visit after visit and so will many tourists.

You could draw a parallel of a fan going to a gig. The fans want and expect to sing-a-long with the anthems rather than concentrate hard on a new experimental album. 

These are still early days for Maria Balshaw at Manchester Art Gallery and ones distorted, as she says, by Olympic year.

In eight months or so we'll have a better idea of her tenure and whether she has found the right balance between satisfying the regular visitor and the casual tourist while also providing the brave innovations that are her hallmark. 

Walker Detail fromKelley Walker. Detail from 'Andy Warhol Doesn't Play Second Base For The Chicago Cubs'


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11 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Charlie HulmeJuly 25th 2012.

Thanks for raising the matter of the Manchester Gallery. I'm 'miserable now' about what's be done to it. Yes, it was a 'local history' space but what's wrong with celebrating Manchester's art history? My essay on John Cassidy (see also http://www.johncassidy.org.uk) is to appear in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library later this year, and now I find his works in Manchester (including 'Adrift' disappearing from view. Will any appear in the main galleries? I won't be holding my breath.

And why does the Gallery never acknowledge or reply to feedback entered on its website, or indeed in Twitter?

AnonymousJuly 25th 2012.

it would be nice to see more north west of local artists promoted and featured through the manchester venues

Rachel FitzgeraldJuly 25th 2012.

Just in response to Charlie Hulme - Charlie, I'm sorry you've not had a response to the feedback you left on the gallery website - you should have done. We try to always acknowledge feedback received through Twitter and Facebook but messages can obviously get missed occasionally. If you'd like to send your email to me personally I'd be happy to pass it onto the right person and ensure you get a response. Many thanks, Rachel Fitzgerald, Communications Manager, Manchester City Galleries, email: r.fitzgerald@manchester.gov.uk

6 Responses: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomJuly 27th 2012.

I have also left responses to your changes to the gallery in the gallery and on Twitter. Both my attempts to engage with the gallery have been ignored. The new hangings in both the Manchester Gallery and the 20th Century Gallery are poor replacements. There is room for such events on the top floor of the gallery. The removal of much loved pictures has been a very bad move which I hope will be put right at the earliest opportunity. No doubt this comment will be ignored by the new regime at the gallery along with others that have been left.

Ghostly TomJuly 27th 2012.

And Maria Balshaw is quite correct. She has alienated many of the regulars.

Ghostly TomJuly 27th 2012.

And her 'brave innovations' should be restricted to the Whitworth, where they belong.....

SmittyJuly 30th 2012.

Jesus, someone comes on from the gallery with their DIRECT EMAIL ADDRESS and STILL the likes of Ghostly Tom whines. Sorry about the shouty capitals but FFS! I'd also like Charlie Hulme to get back on to us to tell us what response he has now got from Rachel, as he must have emailed her by now?

Well done to the gallery for calling their bluffs. Manchester Art Gallery is amazing. I'm a regular visitor and I've never felt alienated.

Ghostly TomAugust 3rd 2012.

Smitty, I was no whining about being ignored. But what does concern me is the despoiling of a great Manchester institution. Wonderful art has been replaced by mediocre contemporary art. There is a place for this art in the city, the top floor of the Manchester Art Gallery and there is plenty of underused space at the Whitworth. It would be good to rotate the pictures in the Manchester Gallery but to completely remove some of the best art in the gallery, which people go to see, is close to an act of cultural vandalism. This policy needs to be stopped in its tracks as soon as possible and reversed. The exhibitions that have replaced the 20th century and Manchester galleries is a very poor substitute.

Charlie HulmeAugust 30th 2012.

Here is the reply I received from the Head of Operations:

"I'm sorry the new gallery is not to your liking. After ten years, we did
feel it was time to refresh this space, which is designed to explore
creativity in and about Manchester (which certainly keeps changing
itself). We will change it every year or so from now on, so hopefully its
next iteration will appeal more. In the meantime, we have re-located many
of the best-loved works from the previous display elsewhere in the
gallery and are working on a 'Manchester trail' with accompanying App to
guide visitors around the Manchester-related items in our collection."

I shall now be searching the place for the 'best-loved works' ...

Charlie

Simon TurnerJuly 30th 2012.

Oh don't change, don't innovate, don't make me think, don't go all unpredictable on me now...

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomAugust 3rd 2012.

There is plenty of places to do that but please don't ride roughshod over some of the best art in the city to do so. If the gallery directors used some imagination they could do so. But, sadly, they are chained to the idea of showing small amounts of contemporary art in huge white spaces.

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