Saturday, 31 January 2015

There and Back Again: Part I


There and Back Again: Part I

My trip to:
Manchester/London/Florianopolis/Rio de Janeiro

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling throughout late November and December during this time I visited Manchester, London and spent Christmas in Brazil returning in early January. Thanks to these travels I got to see some fantastic museums and art galleries. So, I thought I’d start this year by doing a write-up about some of the cultural highlights I’ve seen in the last two months.

The key places I visited were Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester Museum Manchester Central Library, the National Football Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, the Display Gallery, National Gallery in London and the Tate.
Whilst In Brazil I had a chance to see Museu de Arte do Rio (Rio Museum of Art), Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden and Museus Castro Maya.

To be honest this late Christmas cultural review got a little bloated so I’ve decided to split it into three parts. Like what Peter Jackson did with his awful Hobbit blockbuster film trilogy… This first section will cover my highlights of Manchester the second post which features my trip to London I intend to have finished by February 18th and the third section covering my experiences in Brazil (fingers crossed) will be out at the very end of February or March 1st.

Manchester Art Gallery and The Sensory War 1914-2014
Manchester Art Gallery:
First off, I’d highly recommend Manchester Art Gallery it’s got some really good stuff on display I even got a take a sneaky look at Euan Uglow’s, The Quarry,  Pignano (1979) and Francis Bacon, Head VI (1948) two of my favorite painters which were in the middle of being taken down (I think they’d been left hanging from the recent ‘Radical Figures: Post-war British Figurative Painting’ exhibition that had just ended. I consider seeing these paintings an early Christmas treat.

Post-war artists aside Manchester Art Gallery has some great historic art collections especially it's Pre-Raphaelite paintings. There's also some good 18th Century art on display featuring classics' like Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. From a curatorial stance the way the galleries are hung is quite interesting as well. In the historical galleries contemporary art pieces have been mixed in and juxtaposed against the more traditional work in a way that, for the most part, doesn’t feel forced or clichéd.

A good example of this curatorial philosophy in action is the positioning of their recent acquisition the Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry’s work. The piece in question, titled Jane Austen in E17 (2009), is a beautifully executed large ceramic vase inspired in shape by Chinese porcelain, decorated with detailed drawings of elaborately dressed Georgian ladies taking tea and conversing. The genteel figures reflecting Perry’s interest in the feminine and his knowledge of historic dress. They refer to the ideal view of British culture portrayed in popular costume dramas of Jane Austen's novels. Grayson Perry’s work is notably surrounded by 18th Century and Early 19th portrait paintings featuring figures and personalities that could easily be straight of a Jane Austen costume drama.

Jane Austen in E17 (2009) by Grayson Perry

Elsewhere this modus operandi is continued in the exceptional 17th and 18th century Dutch and Flemish collection ‘Home, Land and Sea Art in the Netherlands 1600-1800’. In this gallery space there are over 50 Dutch and Flemish paintings from Manchester’s collection which includes exquisite paintings of everyday life, portraiture, landscapes, seascapes, and still life. A major part of the show is the juxtaposition of these Old Master paintings with contemporary work. On one wall the still lifes are mixed together in a salon-style hang with five modern day works key of which are Mat Collishaw’s Last Meal on Death Row, Texas series (2011), Gavin Turk’s two bronze painted gnawed apple cores Ergo Sum (2008) and artistic duo Rob and Nick Carter’s homage to Ambrosius Bosschaert Transforming Still Life Painting (2009-12).

Gallery space view, Dutch Masters mixed with Mat Collishaw and Rob/Nick Carter's work.

Gallery space view, Notice the wall to the left is hung label free in order to allow overall aesthetics to speak for themselves.
Rob and Nick Carter’s input is certainly the most attention grabbing of the contemporary art on display. Working with the Moving Picture Company the artistic duo replicated and animated Bosschaert’s flower painting currently hung in the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague. The result is a three-hour film which was also three years in the making that animates Bosschaert’s original painting Vase with Flowers in a Window (1618). Watch closely for long enough and you can observe little insects fly in and out the frame, a snail working its way up the vase, flowers moving in the breeze and the light in the background gradually turns to dusk! It’s notable that this exhibition is co-curated by Philippa Stephenson the new Curator of European Art at Glasgow Museums.

These are actually painted bronze sculptures. Modern still lifes, these everyday, chewed apples made of bronze have been turned from the discarded into the treasured.

Massed Shipping Anchored in the Foreground: A View of Rotterdam Beyond (1706) by Jan Claesz. Rietschoof
Last Meal on Death Row, Texas (Paul Nuncio) (2011) by Matt Collishaw

The Sensory War 1914-2014:
Moving on from the permanent display galleries is Manchester Art Gallery art galleries big temporary exhibition at the moment entitled ‘The Sensory War 1914-2014’. This major group exhibition marking the Centenary of the First World War explores how artists have communicated the impact of military conflict on the body, mind, environment and human senses between 1914 and 2014. It brings together work from a range of leading artists including Henry Lamb, CRW Nevinson, Paul Nash, Otto Dix, Nancy Spero, Richard Mosse, Omer Fast and features works by the hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima) which were created in the 1970s and are being shown outside Japan for the first time. The exhibition is spread across two floors of the gallery and is divided into seven themes, each visceral in their focus and ideas: they take titles such as Bombing, Burning and Distant War and Chemical War and Toxic Imagination. Giving these themes substance and gravity are works like The Separation Line by artist Katie Davies, which documents the funeral processions through Royal Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire in the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan, and delicate drawings of disabled soldiers recovering in hospital by French artist Rosine Cahen.

One work I found most haunting though was a picture by Nina Berman from the photographic series Marine Wedding that was first exhibited at the Whitney Biennial in 2010, and is considered an iconic work on the Iraq war. The wedding portrait featuring a Marine and his young bride is so harrowing because the uniformed serviceman Tyler Ziegel is disfigured beyond all recognition. A sense of foreboding extrudes from this print even before you learn that their marriage does not end well. The photograph is displayed amongst several other portraits of disabled veterans (another standout of which is Dawn Halfaker, 2006 by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders) and if nothing else demands a gut-wrenching response that you wont forget.

Marine Wedding (2010) by Nina Berman

Dawn Halfaker (2006) by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Elsewhere there are some old classics like the Paul Nash and the German Expressionist Otto Dix. I was really glad finally see some work by Paul Nash in the flesh. I’ve always liked his work and I think there has sometimes been a tendency to overlook his landscapes lumping him in with the other popular Surrealists of the same era. The Nash painting on display is Wounded at Passchendaele (1920) that depicts stretcher-bearers as they carry wounded through a poisonous Landscape filled with the bleak colours of gangrene and mustard gas.

Acetylene Welder (1917) by Christopher (C.R.W) Nevinson
There's was actually quite a few Nevinson paintings and drawings on display but it was his etchings I really loved! Just a little social context, those are female welders depicted in the picture above.

Other striking works amongst many at the show where the etching and drypoint Der Kreig - Sommschlact (Fleeing wounded Man, Battle of the Somme, 1916) by Otto Dix, some beautiful Lithographs by C.R.W Nevinson and Simon Norfolk's photograph of a destroyed Taliban Tank (2001-2) that appears to resemble the spine of an ancient carcass from some long extinct leviathan against a barren landscape. The picture has a surreal quality to which calls into mind the broken war-torn landscapes of the aforementioned Paul Nash to which Norfolk’s photography could almost be a modern riposte.

Track of destroyed Taliban tank at Farm Hada military base near Jalalabad (2001-02) by Simon Norfolk

Wounded at Passchendaele (1920) by Paul Nash

Manchester Museum:
After Manchester Art Gallery I visited the Manchester Museum which is the UK's largest university museum. The museums first collections were assembled by the Manchester Society of Natural History formed in 1821 with the purchase of John Leigh Philips natural history collection. Its well worth seeking out, its displays of Archaeology and Anthropology are fantastic and that’s before you get to Stan, a reproduction cast of a fossilised Tyrannosaurus rex acquired by the museum in 2004.  

Manchester Museum also boast live displays of species such snakes and exotic frogs the spice things up as well. I was particularly gripped by how the museum displayed its collections. In some sections the illuminated Wunderkammer like cabinets of curiosities are separated into various lose themes such as: ‘Experience’, ‘Right wildlife’, ‘Disasters’ and ‘Resources’. For instance the Resources section has old taxidermied animals scrabbling humorously for natural resources. 

The Experience display case.
Experience display case, two close-ups (above)
Inside the Experience display case: A preserved Snake & Octopus specimens.
Manchester Museum has live snakes and other animals too!
Funnily enough at the time of my visit the Disasters section was ironically cordoned of for 
repair work.

(Above) The Disasters section was apparently cordoned off.
(Left) A taxidermied bird of pray in the Resources section display case.

Manchester also has huge amount of Egyptology stuff the size of their Egyptology display is something that could put some well funded National Gallery collections to shame. Because it’s a university museum the displays here are only essentially the public face of the cutting edge research going on behind the scenes. I’ve been curious about the Egyptology department in Manchester ever since June 2013. This is because at this time I read that an Egyptian mummy from my own local Perth Museum and Art Gallery in Scotland was transported to The University of Manchester for investigation by members of the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology’s Bio Bank team. The resulting investigation made worldwide headlines.

Me with Stan the T-Rex.
So in short, if you go Manchester Museum and ONLY want to see dinosaurs and Egyptian stuff, it would be worth it just for that!

And finally....
Other attractions I visited in Manchester but don’t have time to discuss in this blog are Manchester Central Library that’s just had a amazing refurbishment, the National Football Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry. Worth mentioning -I have absolutely no interest in football but the recently completed National Football Museum is a masterpiece of modern day interactive exhibition design which worked to such effect that even I couldn’t help but get carried away and enthralled by some of the interactive display!

My next post in two weeks time on the 15th of February will be discussing Turner at the Tate, The Display Gallery, Peder Balke and Rembrandts Late Works at the National Gallery of London.


I case no one got the Blog title, I read J.R.R Tolkien's The Hobbit over Christmas while I was traveling!

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