Manchester Art Gallery reopens – and there’s a very good reason to visit right now


And now for a bit of good news. Manchester Art Gallery reopened on Thursday, having been closed for over five months.

You need to book a slot in advance via the website so they can control the number of people in the building and social distancing measures are in place. There’s a handy signposted one way system to take you through the galleries and you’ll have to make do with just cultural refreshment because the café is closed.

It’s not exactly business as usual, but it’ll do for the time being. And it all went pretty smoothly when we visited on Friday, so if you’re in need of a quick culture fix why not pop in?

Photo: Andrew Brooks

And there’s a very good reason to visit right now.

The director and curators of Manchester Art Gallery are asking some pretty fundamental questions about the Gallery and what it’s for – and they want to know what you think.

Questions like what is the point of a public art gallery? What are the artworks and how did they get here? Where did and does the money come from? Who was exploited for this wealth? What relates to Manchester and its people? How do we decide what to collect?

“These displays have been largely the same for nearly 20 years,” says one sign. “Over the coming months and years we are working to reimagine these gallery displays. We want to work openly and collectively to do interesting things with the collection. How can we fill these galleries with creative ideas and activities that help us all understand the past and present and shape the future?”

So what will the reimagined galleries look like? It seems like they’ve already made up their minds about two of them.

Gallery 4, which currently displays paintings which depict The Grand Tour, will be turned into ‘a welcoming space for exploring themes around migration’.

According to a blackboard in this gallery, The Grand Tour is “a story of power and privilege”.

“How relevant is this today?” it continues. “This gallery shows a limited view of travel with a focus on the European tour undertaken by 18th century privileged men. Influence on British culture by working class people or from outside Europe is not represented”.

In another gallery there’s a poster by Craig Oldham expressing solidarity with key workers. Nothing wrong with that perhaps, but it looks completely out of place in a gallery of pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Another gallery will be devoted to works on the theme of climate emergency.

So what do you think should Manchester Art Gallery look like? Do you want it to stay the way it is or do you think it should change?

Make your voice heard, whether or not you intend to visit. Because Manchester Art Gallery doesn’t belong to its director or curators or the council. It belongs to the people of Manchester.

When the curators removed JW Waterhouse’s painting Hylas and the Nymphs from display two years ago, they said they wanted to open up a global debate about representation in art and how works of art are interpreted and displayed.

The response was overwhelmingly hostile.

Are they massively out of touch with public opinion again?


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