I went to University at Manchester. Twice in fact so I spent about 5 years in the city yet I have no memory of even noticing the Whithworth art gallery, despite tramping across Whitworth park many, many times. In recent years though it has shot to fame, and won a number of major awards so I decided, on a recent trip to the city, to see what all the fuss was about.
It is an attractive building, the front a large Victorian brick edifice of the type that abounds in Manchester and grafted onto the back an attractive two winged affair enclosing a very attractive garden (above).
At the back of the garden, just beyond the boundary between kempt and unkempt sits this ominous looking no faced statue (above). I monk like figure with a clockwork or mechanical chest, peering at this black monument. You can see it from various points of the museum and it beckons you out into the grounds in a ghostly way.
The south wing of the extension is a cafe. The tea is terrible but it has a very good view. Three sides of it are made up of floor to ceiling windows, but as you are up near the generous tree canopy , while being light and airy it still has an enclosed cosy feel. It becomes obvious from here that the garden has been well designed so that it shows off different parts of itself depending on the level you view it from. You can also see out into the park and see several sculptures including this shiny metallic bare tree (above).
The largest gallery is on the mezzanine level and is I believe called the great hall (above). I like the way that they have exposed the brick work on what is presumably the back of the older Victorian building. This gives you a surreal inside/outside sensation. While I was there it was playing host to a rather fine exhibition by Alice Kettle called Thread Bearing Witness. It was a series of large rectangles, along with stranger more three dimensional objects, all decorated in highly coloured thread. The depth of colour and density of the thread is extraordinary. Figures, patterns and objects merge in and out of the more abstract background images. It is visually very appealing and very good. I particularly liked the burnished red colours you can see on the right hand panel.
The gallery has a number of fine paintings but the likes of Barbara Hepworth and Philip Lanyon. They are all glass fronted though so my photos of them are just blurry reflections of an idiot with a phone. However one that has survived is Terry Frost's Blue Red and Black (above), Frost coming from the does what it says on the tin school of naming. I like Frost and he is better on a bigger scale but It was nice to see one I had not seen before and again it was the stripes of red and pink, particularly where you have that flashing line of gold, that appealed to me.
You have these people injured, dead or dying, the effects of deprivation. Or more dynamic sections like in the collection of 9 above which shows bull leaping. No one looks happy in a Goya etching.
Running along the north side is a small gallery containing some modern work, including a installation of a peach light in a box by Rebecca Warren (above left- who has reached that stage of success where artists no longer have their own website). IT is simple but has a reassuring glowing warmth to it. I also like the sharp divide in the box that the shadow forms.
Did I say this area was more modern, well I liked because incongruously opposite it are these two line drawing sketches by Cezanne (above right). They are irritating because they are spare and simple, and probably done quite quickly yet are still superb.
Moving along the corridor sitting in an alcove is a generous sculpture of a pregnant woman (above). I have failed to record who this is by but it is very good and like all good sculptures has a real earthy presence to it.
At the end of the corridors the stair lead down into the lower ground level, and the exit to the garden. A coloured glass sculpture hangs over you as you descend (above left). The is also a nice architectural feature in that as you descend you can see both levels at once, split only by quite a think concrete floor (above right) and both lit by the large windows at the end and to the right. Give that lovely sense of space/cossiness that I was talking about before.
While I was in Manchester, they had the bee art trail going on (the bee is the symbol of the city). They are scattered through the city but my favourite of the ones I saw was Lord Beedon Powell in the Manchester Cathedral (above). Puns and art, always an excellent combination.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.