So, this is about art. How to experience it. Where to see it. There isn’t really a battle between looking at a painting in a gallery and looking at a mural on a wall. It’s all art and Manchester is big enough for the both of them.
Of course, there are differences between art in a gallery and street art. One’s more conventional than the other. One’s a bit more…edgy? One’s seen as culture, the other something of a counter-culture. But there’s a lot in common too. Maybe it’s just that one is indoors, the other is outdoors?
Manchester Art Gallery has a long history. It started in 1823 as the Royal Manchester Institution. It came under the control of the local council in 1882 on the condition that it spent at least £2000 on art every year for 20 years. By today’s standards, that’s a commitment of around £3,400,000.
Manchester Art Gallery is now fully established and able to attract around 500,000 visitors a year. Its collection includes thousands of objects and art works from around the world. No-one will ever see everything in a single visit but the gallery constantly changes and refreshes what’s on view. It’s always worth a visit.
Interestingly, Manchester Art Gallery bought its first painting in 1827 – a James Northcote portrait of the pioneering black actor, Ira Aldridge in character as Shakespeare’s Othello. We can’t help but think it would look incredible as a giant warehouse-sized mural somewhere.
The Northern Quarter is pretty much all of the backstreets between Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester Arndale and Great Ancoats Street. It’s independent, cool and a natural home for street art. There’s more street art here than any other part of the city. It ranges from gigantic, full gable-end to smaller scale pavement poetry.
There are a few things to remember if you want to enjoy street art in the Northern Quarter. First of all, street art is a fast-moving medium. Some sites are re-painted quite frequently so what you’ve seen online might already be something new.
Perhaps the most important advice? Look up, look down, look around. It sounds simple but it’s amazing how little we notice when walking from A to B. Tune your eyes in. There could be a giant mural staring down at you. An international artist could’ve stencilled something in that disused doorway. Be brave. Have a look.
The great thing about the Northern Quarter? As well as the art and the vibe, you’re never far from a cool place to stop for a drink or something to eat.
Whitworth Art Gallery can be found in Whitworth Park, just a few miles south of the city centre. It has always had a special relationship with its surroundings – the park providing a leafy backdrop to the works on display. The award-winning new extension and café bring the gallery and park even closer together.
The Whitworth has its own vast collection (60,000 or so art works) and unique specialities including textiles, prints, wallpaper and outsider art. It’s open to the public and one of the most visited attractions in the city, but as part of the University of Manchester, it is also a place of research and study.
Cities of Hope
Some of Manchester’s most impressive street art is thanks to Manchester-based biennial civic art initiative, Cities of Hope. Cities of Hope raises awareness of social issues and gives a lot to local charities by giving artists from around the world the opportunity to create something special in Manchester.
It’s a genuinely organic and grass-rootsy idea that gets bigger and more ambitious with every new piece. There are currently 17 Cities of Hope works that pepper the city centre, mainly in the Northern Quarter. Artists like Mateus Bailon, Axel Void, Case, Nevercrew and PichiAvo have created thought-provoking, change-inspiring, larger-than-life works that have an incredible visual impact on their surroundings.
Thank you, Cities of Hope! We can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.
[Could we link or embed this video? It could be a nice showcase: https://youtu.be/H-WPoKxvuBY]
[Perhaps the nicest collection of usable images in this flickr collection but they all need attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/locosteve/albums/72157693152163150]
Around the region
Galleries and street art aren’t exclusive to Manchester city centre. All of the town centres around Manchester have their own collections, often in historic or state of the galleries. Here’s an introduction to the wider city-region.
There’s street art to be discovered too. Sometimes in surprising places. UK artist ‘kELzO’ has painted a 200-metre-long mural and a tattoo parlour in Bolton. He’s also painted in Bury, Altrincham, Salford, Salford Quays and Castle Irwell. He’s not the only artist operating in the city-region. One thing about street art is that it sometimes needs to be hunted down.
If you set some time aside to enjoy art, in a gallery or on the street, there’s nothing to stop you wandering around the Northern Quarter or calling into a gallery. They’re all free. But there’s one problem that can blight both formats – art fatigue!
Art fatigue can happen to the best of us. It creeps up and you suddenly realise that you’re not really looking any more. You’re just staring. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Rembrandt or a Banksy, if you’re brain has switched off for the day, it’s all a bit pointless.
Walking tours or guided tours are a great way to combat art fatigue. You can let the tour guide do the navigating and bring what you’re looking at to life. Just a random fact about the artist, the piece or the location can trigger a response that you might never forget.
There are lots of walking tours available in Manchester, not just for art. If you need a place to start, take a look at what’s coming up.