Since “you know what” we’ve lost the habit of going out to galleries and exhibitions. It’s something we need to correct. As a start one Thursday a couple of weeks ago I had to go into Manchester to pick something up from my office (I’m hardly in there, mainly working from home for my part time job), so we decided to drive in and make a day of it. The Whitworth Gallery, a short distance from the office, is open late on Thursdays so we used the opportunity to visit the Manchester City Art Gallery and then head over to the Whitworth.
There were a couple of exhibitions on at the City Art Gallery
Dandy Style, “focuses on men’s fashion and image from the 18th century to the present day” with items from the Gallery’s own collection together with loans from other art institutions and private lenders. I wasn’t sure that I’d be that interested in looking at men’s fashion, but I was pleasantly surprised. It traced the evolution of men’s outfits from Georgian times up to the modern day – a history of fashionable clothes.
The outfits were not exactly the type of clothes worn by working men but nevertheless it was interesting to see how typical upper class apparel evolved over the centuries.
Out of the Crate showcased a large selection of the Gallery’s sculpture collection, and is described as “part exhibition, part research space”
Room 1: What’s in Store? – the first room had around 60 sculptures, but they weren’t displayed in the conventional way. Instead they were “displayed on racks, in cupboards, on pallets and in open crates and grouped as they would be in a store, according to size and/or material and weight, rather than guided by themes or chronology as in a conventional gallery display.” Most of them weren’t labelled and it felt as if we were rummaging through a storeroom. It was an interesting way of displaying the sculptures as we saw them in a different way and discovered works by both familiar and unfamiliar artists.
I thought I’d more photos, but looking on the photo library on my phone I discovered I only had a few snaps. A pity as I discovered some artists I hadn’t previously encountered and now, three weeks later, I can’t remember who they were! Luckily the exhibition is on until the end of this year, so I think another visit will have to be on the cards.
Room 2: Cold Cases
This room showcases a changing selection of 10-15 sculptures under investigation. These are artworks about which we have little information, are in poor condition or have been off display for a long time and would benefit from new research.
The Gallery keeps comprehensive notes about the provenance of all the works they own, and they were included with the specific works on display, together with an explanation on what was being investigated and notes on what additional information the Gallery would like to find. There is, perhaps, a small chance that a visitor might be able to help to fill the gaps!
Room 3: It’s Good to Talk
This section of the exhibition was curated by the Making Conversation group – a group of people from all walks of life who take part in monthly workshops with artists and gallery staff.
Here are a couple of the works that took my eye
We had a mooch around the permanent collection and then left the Gallery and set off down Oxford Road to head over to the Whitworth.
The main exhibition was a major retrospective of the work of Althea McNish (1924 – 2020), “the first Caribbean designer to achieve international recognition and one of the most influential and innovative textile designers in the UK.” It’s a touring exhibition curated by the William Morris in London/ I’ll let them describe the background about the artist
Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, McNish (1924-2020) moved to the UK in 1950, completing a postgraduate textiles degree at the Royal College of Art before rising to prominence as a Black female designer. On graduating, McNish began designing bestselling furnishing and fashion fabrics for iconic firms including Liberty, Dior, Heal’s and Hull Traders, for whom she created one of her most famous patterns, Golden Harvest, in 1959. As her career progressed, McNish took on major interior design projects and mural commissions around the world, as well as creating wallpapers for leading companies.
McNish’s painterly designs incorporated natural botanical forms from Britain and the Caribbean, using a riotous colour palette that overturned the staid rules of mid-century British textile design. Her technical mastery gave her the freedom to create ever more complex prints. “Whenever printers told me it couldn’t be done, I would show them how to do it,” she said. “Before long, the impossible became possible.”William Morris Gallery Website
Her designs were used for wallpapers, furnishings and architectural features as well as fabrics. She even designed restaurant murals for the liner SS Oriana – built in Barrow on Furness for the Orient Steam Navigation Company‘. They’re incredibly bright and colourful and were influenced by the plant life and landscape of her native Trinidad – she is quoted as saying that “everything I did, I saw through a tropical eye“. I’d certainly agree with the Victoria and Albert Museum’s view that they
injected much-needed colour and life into the post-war fashion and textiles industry from the 1950s onwards.V&A website
It was fascinating to see how the designs evolved from the original drawings by the artist.
This is the design for Golden Harvest her most famous design
and here’s the textile, together with the trial print
In 1966, she designed a ‘Bachelor Girl’s Room’ for the Ideal Home Exhibition in London, and a modern interpretation was included in the Whitworth exhibition.
We hadn’t specifically planned to see the exhibition but were pleased to have had the opportunity to see it and discover the colourful work of Althea McNish.