In Events

The Manchester Contemporary

The Manchester Contemporary 2019 sets itself apart from previous editions with an increased international offer and fresh emphasis on artist collectives, with five collectives taking up stands at the event. This year, The Manchester Contemporary has also achieved a majority of female-led galleries and collectives for the first time: over half of the thirty galleries and collectives on the exhibitor list are led by women (further details available, please see media information below). These include l’étrangère under Director Joanna Gemes, which presents intricate tapestries by USSR-born artist Yelena Popova; and TJ Boulting headed up by Director Hannah Watson, which shows new works by acclaimed photographer Juno Calypso.

Curator of The Manchester Contemporary Nat Pitt reflects on the global scope of this year’s show, saying: “The fair has increased its international offer, bringing LMAKgallery in from New York, Square Art Projects from London/Caracas and Espacio Liquido from Madrid. The big difference we made at last year’s event was to bring international galleries for the first time; this year is really about amplifying that commitment.” LMAKgallery, with its central focus on artists’ practice, was founded in New York in 2005, while artist-run curatorial project Square Art Projects is based in London but with an international presence. Madrid-based Espacio Liquido will present contemporary Spanish artist Teresa Moro, whose work is concerned with the ‘relic effect’ of objects owned by famous artists.

With regard to his approach to curating this year’s exhibitor list, Pitt says: “As well as introducing more international galleries, I want to open up The Manchester Contemporary as a space where younger galleries can develop, supporting the spread of UK-based artist-led spaces.” In order to engage further with regional art practices, this year the fair has welcomed collectives from York, the West Midlands, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle. “I’m really excited about building The Manchester Contemporary as a test bed for future galleries, by offering project spaces to new initiatives,” Pitt says. These include Yo! Collective (York), No Room to Breathe (Madrid), Salt Road (West Midlands) and Pink, a Manchester-based project from curators Katy Morrison and Matt Retallick.

The Manchester Contemporary 2019 also builds on the focus of last year’s event, which gave particular attention to galleries representing artists who face challenges to entering the mainstream art world. Among the three ‘roving’ art projects being exhibited at the show are works by Mark Titchner, presented by Bethlem Gallery, which is situated on the grounds of the Bethlem Royal Hospital. A series of mirrored placards by Titchner confront the viewer with a forthright question, each addressing mental capacity and assessment as well as wider issues of personal autonomy and the fragile relationship of individual to state. Returning organisation Venture Arts, which works with learning disabled artists, highlights two of its most prominent Manchester-based artists, Leslie Thompson and Barry Anthony Finan.

Both Curator Nat Pitt and CEO of The Manchester Contemporary and Manchester Art Fair Thom Hetherington are committed to maintaining a strong northern presence at the show: “The fair has had a tangible impact on the careers, opportunities and ambitions of a generation of artists, gallerists and curators within the region,” says Hetherington. “To have created this from nothing represents quite an achievement for the whole team, and everyone who has supported us.” This is also part of what Pitt describes as “using the fair as a platform to counterbalance London, and the expense of exhibiting there.”

Returning to the event are two Manchester-based organisations: Castlefield Gallery, presenting new work by Nicola Ellis, Parham Ghalamdar and George Gibson, three artists living and working in the North West region; and artist-led initiative Paradise Works, showing sculptural works by studio member Richard Dean Hughes that collide contemporary artefacts with abstract representations of coping methods. Other galleries with a northern focus include The Art House from Wakefield, whose two international artists in residence – Cole Ndelu from South Africa and Dimple B. Shah from Gujarat – will be presenting new and existing pieces created in response to their new context in the North of England.

Thom Hetherington says: “It’s not about creating a replacement for London, it’s about creating an alternative. I strongly believe that everyone should be free to go to London, or indeed anywhere else their career ambitions and funds can take them, but they shouldn’t have to.” In terms of what sets The Manchester Contemporary apart, Pitt argues that: “The Manchester Contemporary is a lot more relaxed and collegiate than other events, and a great space in which to build friendly relationships. There’s a real feeling of camaraderie.”

This emphasis on both placemaking and openness also applies to The Manchester Contemporary’s approach to reaching new audiences. Describing the event’s inception, Thom says: “I loved the idea that access to critically engaged art and the art world shouldn’t be limited by class or geography – but when I asked around my contacts in London about launching an art fair, they said, ‘there are no galleries in Manchester because no one buys art’. I strongly believed that no one bought art because there were no galleries. There is a wonderful Keith Haring quotation that we have really taken to heart: ‘There is an audience that is being ignored… They are open to art when it is open to them.’ I felt it just needed someone to disrupt things, and to start making art buying into a habit.”

The recently established Manchester Contemporary Art Fund further expands on this principle by pooling donations from private individuals, which are then used by Manchester Art Gallery to acquire new works from emerging artists at The Manchester Contemporary and exhibit them publicly. “The pieces of art are owned by the people of Manchester in perpetuity, as part of the gallery’s permanent collection,” Hetheringon explains. Set up in 2017, the fund has doubled in size this year, and is now the largest outside of London. Its intention is twofold: to both provide a platform for rising artists through which to achieve critical acclaim and increased exposure and, as Hetherington describes it, to “form a part of the overall aim of The Manchester Contemporary, which is to reignite Manchester’s long and sometimes overlooked history of cultural patronage.”

Perhaps the artwork most emblematic of the philosophy behind The Manchester Contemporary is the piece Hetherington has selected to act as a central gateway at the event. ‘Clandestine’ is a towering installation of trousered legs with formal shoes, forming a giant archway in the café space of The Manchester Contemporary and Manchester Art Fair. This piece is by Manchester-based, early career artist Imogen Ellerby Sansom, and was enormously popular when she debuted it at MMU’s Manchester School of Art degree show earlier this year, reaching new audiences through its proliferation on social media. It will act as a powerful emblem of the values that are The Manchester Contemporary’s guiding light.


Manchester Art Fair 2019 featuring The Manchester Contemporary
Manchester Art Fair 2019 featuring The Manchester Contemporary

Founded in 2008, Manchester Art Fair is one of the UK's most ambitious art fairs, selling modern & contemporary paintings, sculpture, photography and editioned prints from a selection of UK and international galleries.



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