Back to the Whitworth

Last weekend I travelled to Manchester to start looking for a new flat. One chapter of my life is drawing to a close, and another is about to open; I have no idea how things will turn out.

On Saturday I went to a pub, The Ford Madox Brown, a wonderful carved-wood fantasy library type building, and treated myself to steak and chips with scampi. And a pint of Abbott’s. Since I am supposed to be saving money ready for the big move, this dinner felt like an extravagant luxury. I was half anxious in case anybody recognised me and decided to report my whereabouts.

I wandered over to the Whitworth Gallery to admire the pencil drawings of Richard Forster (‘Three Verticals’ from a distance made me think of electron micrographs of hair or fibreglass). Some of the rooms of the gallery are crowded with pictures, with no captions, so you have to consult the booklet provided in order to identify the works. This is good; the viewer is less likely to see a picture and think ‘Oh, that’s a Freud, I should be impressed’ and more likely to be captivated by a few of the pictures simply because of their artistic merit.

Artistic merit is one of the themes in Yasmina Reza’s play ‘Art’ in which three friends argue about a plain white painting. I wondered if at some point this play would be cast with three black actors and a picture to match, and in the Whitworth I found just the piece of work; ‘Gloss Black and Matt Black 1990’ by Ian Davenport.

I also found a huge picture, looking rather like a patchwork quilt, made from recycled plastic bags: ‘Retread 1’ by Michele Walker. This comes just a week after the announcement that large stores in England are to charge customers 5 pence for each carrier bag they use.

And then, upstairs in the gallery, past the Turner watercolour of Anselm’s Chapel (utterly divine) and the ‘Starry Messenger’ installation of Bedwyr Williams, I found the embroidered version of the Wikipedia entry for the Magna Carta, coordinated by Cornelia Parker. This splendid creation is an exact replica of the Wiki page, produced by a crew of over 200 people including prisoners, celebrities, human rights activists, and senior politicians.

Perhaps they should have doctored the embroidered work to include a fictitious reference to itself…


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