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We Do Support MCR Artists Say Galleries

Maria Balshaw's full reply to artists complaints of gallery exclusion

Published on June 26th 2014.

We Do Support MCR Artists Say Galleries

EARLIER this week we published this open letter from Manchester artists concerning their belief that they're being excluded from the main Manchester public galleries. This is the full reponse from the curatorial teams of Manchester City Galleries and Whitworth Art Gallery and their Director, Maria Balshaw. 

AS curators we are constantly considering the balance in our programme and how we can represent the best work by great artists, whether they are Manchester-based, UK-based or international as well as showing our historic collections.

Our programme is increasingly dynamic and mixed, is reaching more and more people and is gaining a high national and international profile. All these things are good for the city and for the artists based here. We have Manchester-based artists in our programme currently, and we are discussing ideas for working with others in future. We acquire work by Manchester based artists regularly and will continue to do so whenever we can raise the funds to do so.

We welcome conversation, debate and discussion about our programme and don’t see a great divide between artists in the city and ourselves as curators, so we’re always happy to talk to artists about their work and about our exhibitions programme – and we frequently do.

We all visit studios and art spaces of all sizes across the city and enjoy participating in the varied arts ecology of our city. Some of us are artists as well as curators and we have friends, colleagues and partners who are artists working in the city or region. We know that there are always questions to be asked about the role of artists in any city’s arts scene, and consider ourselves part of that discussion.

Maria Balshaw with Raqib Shaw

Maria Balshaw with Raqib Shaw

We have worked with artists based in the city in a number of ways, from co-curation projects, to new commissions, solo shows, group shows and as part of our learning and public programmes as well as acquiring work for the collections. We purchase work by Manchester artists for the Patrons Loan Scheme at Manchester Art Gallery and have introduced patrons and supporters to artists, taken them to studios and encouraged them to support the artists in our city.

We also play a key role in the annual Manchester Contemporary art fair, which aims to grow and develop a collecting culture in Manchester and the north-west. As curators we work hard to make sure collectors come to the fair, we lead tours and do all we can to promote the Manchester artists and Northern galleries that show at the fair. It has included Manchester-based artists and artist-led organisations in its programme since year one, and includes collectors’ tours to Manchester artist’ studios each year.

The open letter raises the important point about how the whole arts ecology can support the development of artists in our city and region.  This is what we have contributed over the past 4 years.  We look forward to the continuing conversation.

Manchester City Galleries

Ryan Gander, Make Every Exhibition Like it’s Your Last (not based here now, obviously, but trained here and we wanted to do the show because of this connection).

Andrea Zapp – forthcoming solo exhibition of new fashion work (from October 14)

Dan Dubowitz and Alan Ward (until 22 June)

Beth Johnson - MMU graduate Showcase - Gallery of Craft & Design

Sculptural Forms – A Century of Experiment – Steve Dixon in exhibition

The First Cut – Nicola Dale (new commission and existing works to an exhibition that got great press coverage and toured to Nottingham and Southampton).  This group show was the one of most successful shows we have ever done

Alison Erika Forde – solo exhibition (main image, top of the page).  This followed a MAG patron supporting Alison’s studio costs in the preceding year.

Do it (MIF) – a number of artists and student artists were selected to interpret the instructions in film, performance, animation and dance.

In Translation: Women Migration and Britishness - co-curation project with UHC using the MCG collection.

Joanne Bowles - MMU graduate Showcase - Gallery of Craft & Design

Lubaina Himid, 2 paintings acquired and exhibited at Platt Hall (Lubaina is based in Preston but has a strong association with Manchester)

Susie MacMurray, Widow, exhibited at Platt Hall and at MAG

11 Rooms - Group Show (MIF)
Manchester based performers and performance artists worked with and re-presented works by Marina Abramovic, Joan Jonas and Laura Lima

Catherine Carr MMU graduate, Showcase - Gallery of Craft & Design

Lazerian - acquisition of Fornax lightshade, displayed in the Gallery of Craft & Design

Quarantine, The Soldier’s Song
WeAreTape, High Rise, show as part of Manchester Gallery display. 
Alice Kettle, new work at the Gallery of Costume
Andrew Bracey: Animalation (solo show in ground floor galleries)

Whitworth Art Gallery

Pavel Büchler: Idle Thoughts
5 July - 1 Sept 2013
An exhibition of a recent acquisition and further work, many of which were acquired for the collection.

Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson: Six White Horses
1 Sept 2013
A new commission for the final closing event of the Whitworth, prior to the redevelopment project.

Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson: Fireworks
5 Feb - 30 June
An exhibition of Fireworks, which we acquired for the collection

We also have an edition of Radical Obsolescence, a portfolio of 12 original prints by Pavel Büchler, Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson, Naomi Kashiwagi, David Osbaldeston, David Price and Maeve Rendle.

We also acquired work by Rachel Goodyear (through International 3) in 2013.

Tuesday Talks:  although Tuesday Talks is often about bringing new people into the City, we have had talks in recent years from artists Mit Senoj and Tim Machin who are based in Manchester, and Paul Rooney, David Jacques and Juan Cruz from Liverpool.

A major new commission by Brass Art was exhibited in Dark Matters: Art Shadow Technology (2012) as well as several drawings by Pavel Büchler. 

We acquired three drawings by Manchester-based artist David Mackintosh and two drawings by Mary Griffiths in 2011.

Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson have also been commissioned to produce a limited edition print for sale exclusively at the gallery.

Lubaina Himid: Kangas from the Lost Sample Book
New commission for COTTON: Global Threads

11 Feb - 13 May 2012
2 works were subsequently acquired for the Whitworth’s collection

Maxine Bristow
29 Jul - 1 Sep 2013
Artist intervention in the Textiles Gallery and entrance hall to the Whitworth
(Maxine is based in Chester but is a graduate of MMU and works regularly in the city)

We also developed an installation with Manchester-based artists Val Murray and Lynn Pilling (TEA) as part of 'Stories of the World', a Cultural Olympiad engagement programme: 'Spinning a Yarn'. 16 October – 12 December 2010.

We also have work in the textile collection by the following:

Alice Kettle (Senior Research Fellow at MIRIAD)
Lesley Mitchison (Senior Lecturer, Textiles, MMU)
Lynn Setterington (Senior Lecturer, Textiles, MMU)
Anne Morrell (Emeritus Professor, MMU and former Head of Embroidery at MMU)
Eleri Mills (based in mid-Wales but an MMU Embroidery graduate)
Vicki Wheeler (work commissioned for TACTILE handling resource – Lecturer in Textiles & Design Management, School of Materials, University of Manchester)
Colette Gilmartin (work commissioned for TACTILE – freelance artist/designer based in Manchester)

Jennifer Harris, Deputy Director, co-chairs the North West Craft Network, which works to raise the profile of craft and craft makers in the NW.  Maria Balshaw and Natasha Howes have acted as nominators for the Northern Art Prize, and have nominated Manchester based artists.  Mary Griffiths has served on the Arts Council acquisitions panel and has championed a number of North West based artists.  Curators are solicited for views by the organisers of the British Art Show, and have been active champions of artists in the city and have suggested studio visits.

Manchester Art Gallery

Manchester Art Gallery

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

David GledhillJune 26th 2014.

And yet there's no mention of Manchester in the Arts Council's Plan for 2011-15 which lists those arts organisations in the North that have achieved it's criteria of excellence and innovation. www.artscouncil.org.uk/…/arts-council-plan-2011-15… Can anyone detect any patterns amongst the cited examples in the response above? Whilst I have absolutely no doubts about the artistic excellence of the individual artists and sheltering institutions mentioned, surely they represent the 'very few' the original Open Letter talks about. There are hundreds of artists in the studios around the city and hundreds more graduate from our arts schools every year having run up huge personal debts to do so. Not to mention the artists that survive outside the studio network. Is this record really adequate? The grass roots arts ecology of the region needs much more than gas and air. Passionate advocacy of the city and its artists should be the minimum requirement. The debate goes on..

Ghostly TomJune 26th 2014.

I always enjoy going to see the degree show at the School of Art. Some of the work is extraordinary and deserves a wider audience. What about having an event like the Royal Academy in London has where artists submit work and the best is put on display regardless of the fame of the artist? Make it an annual event and publicize it. I'm sure people would come. I'm not sure where it could be put though. Unlike London, we don't have a huge building in central Manchester that could be used for this kind of thing. Possibly the Central/GMEX exhibition space might be good. I always like coming across little exhibitions in bars, restaurants, banking halls etc. More of those would be good for up and coming artists to show their work in.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 1st 2014.

Nice idea

AnonymousJuly 2nd 2014.

London Road Fire Station would be ideal louvre, Manchester Modern Art amongst lot's of other museums, shops and exhibition space. Just requires guts, stealth and strategy from the Council to win back for Manchester, to seek developers and have public voice involved in the planning and supporting a new CPO. That is if the leaders don't actually want it to be demolished or rot further. Next to Piccadilly in an iconic building, unique in the world, could there be a better place?

AnonymousJune 27th 2014.

This unfortunately seems to not fully address the intial concern, the pattern seems to only support full-time or contracted members of staff from MMU, with a very few exceptions, it also includes members of staff too (not sure the ethical position on that?), and also only one or two of these have shown in the major spaces (a very longtime ago?). Some of the above artists have been scattered around 'in-between' spaces no doubr under the guise of it curatorial and conceptually fits'. If anything, there needs to be certainly more for those who are fulll-time working away in their studios.

Roger BygottJune 28th 2014.

Where is MAFA in this discussion? I was honoured to receive an award from them at my recent degree show (Interactive Arts B.A. - MMU). But I was a bit baffled as to who MAFA was and what their significance is in the city arts ecology. They were the original supporters and foundation for most of the main arts institutions in Manchester. Now they seem a bit on the fringes, maybe a bit old school and out of touch with the contemporary art scene? Could there be a new organisation that brings the original MAFA vision into the 21st C? www.mafa.org.uk/about.php…

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Chris LethbridgeJune 28th 2014.

The hugely popular MAFA summer show used to be a regular fixture of the Manchester Art Gallery programme and was always located in the Atheneum Gallery (which now forms the main offices of MAG). Like its London counterpart it showed a diverse range of painting, sculpture and printmaking in a loosely 'traditionalist' idiom. It was 'banished' from MAG at around the time the new extension was being built and the galleries reconfigured. I can only surmise what the rationale was for taking this step, but assume the type of work MAFA represented did not chime with the ambitions of the gallery. While MAFA may be regarded as representing artistic conservatism, many artists benefited, the public loved it and the institution gave a sense of historic context to practice in the city. In my view excluding it for the sake of curatorial fashion was a massive mistake and can perhaps be seen as an example of what the open letter is critiquing. Certainly MAFA must surely be a part of this debate. If not, one has to ask how the community of artists in Manchester is being defined in this context.

Chris LethbridgeJune 28th 2014.

In 'making the case' don't think it is helpful to 'edit out' those artists who are associated with MMU. One must take an inclusive view of the community of practice in Manchester. That should include emergent, mid career and late career artists. People resident in the city for a lifetime or present for just a few years. It should include not only 'fine artists' but designers and makers (as highlighted in the response). It must include both innovative and traditionalist work. It may include artists not currently resident but with long associations with the city and those who operate without the studio system. Otherwise the open letter begins to look as though it's in danger of narrowly defining 'the community' as those who operate around the city's studio system.

AnonymousJune 28th 2014.

I think Chris that you're putting a 'spin' on it there. If you look again at the list of names on it there are traditionalists, younger contemporary artists, people from both inside and outside the studio groups and some of them are MMU tutors and graduates. There are makers on there too as well as people associated with the city but no longer resident. There are more than 80 of them after all. It's about as inclusive as it can be.

Roger BygottJune 30th 2014.

Meanwhile, over in Liverpool...www.thedoublenegative.co.uk/…/…

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