Take me to the Whitworth

Words by Sinead Nunes, Editor

Everyone’s talking about it: Manchester’s 125 year old gallery, the Whitworth will be reopening its doors in time for Valentine’s Day following a £15 million redevelopment.

Supported by a major Heritage Lottery Fund grant, The University of Manchester and other funders, the gallery has undergone quite the makeover. With state-of-the-art new facilities including expanded gallery spaces, a study centre, learning studio, and a collections centre, developers have transformed the space into a 21st century gallery in the park.

And what of the programme for this newly launched arts institutions? The Whitworth’s curatorial team have ensured the opening exhibitions won’t fall short of the standard set by the gallery’s architects. Coinciding with the reopening of the gallery, Cornelia Parker one of Britain’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, will present an exhibition including her extraordinary installation Cold Dark Matter; An Exploded View, (1991) alongside a new commission and additions to her ongoing series Bullet, Poison and Antidote and Explosion Drawings.


Housed within the rest of the gallery, whose refurbishment also includes an elegant glass, stainless steel and brick extension of the existing 19th century building, and an art garden between connected to the building with a glass promenade gallery overlooking the surrounding landscape, will be a collection of works celebrating the Whitworth’s eclectic and extensive collection; bringing together great examples of historical and contemporary fine art, textiles and wallpaper.

That collection (including some exciting temporary loans) includes a gunpowder installation by Cai Guo-Qiang to be revealed on the opening night; portraits byFrancis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Sir Stanley Spencer; images from leading photographer Johnnie Shand Kydd’s extensive portfolio; paintings, prints and sculptures by Peter Blake, Allen Jones, Bridget Riley, Peter Phillips, Richard Hamilton, Colin Self and Elizabeth Frink; works by designers such as William Morris, and Low Tide Wandering, an installation from leading German artist Thomas Schütte.

As well as presenting such a variety of work, the renovation will allow the Whitworth to care for its significant collection of over 55,000 historical and contemporary works, with a new environmentally sustainable collection storage area. Alongside all of this, a new Art Garden and an Orchard Garden have been designed by Chelsea gold medalist Sarah Price, extending the exhibition space beyond the gallery walls to include a significant number of new outdoor sculptures by artists Christine Borland, Nate Lowman, Simon Periton and Nico Vascellari. The enclosed Orchard Garden and wildflower area will offer a place for relaxation and reflection as well as support the Whitworth’s work to promote the biodiversity of the park.

And those heading to the opening weekend of the new venue are in for a thrilling spectacle. Ahead of her new Whitworth exhibition, Cornelia Parker collaborated with scientists at The University of Manchester, most notably Kostya Novoselov, who, with Andre Geim, was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on graphene – the thinnest and strongest known material. Working with a paper conservator, Novoselov took microscopic samples of graphite from drawings in the Whitworth’s collection by William Blake, Turner, Constable and Picasso as well as a pencil-written letter by Sir Ernest Rutherford (who split the atom in Manchester). He then made graphene from these samples, one of which Parker is making into a work of art; a Blake-graphene sensor activated by breath which will set off a firework meteor shower in Whitworth Park inspired by William Blake’s watercolour The Ancient of Days on the opening night of the exhibition. I don’t know about you, but we’re pretty excited!

For the full programme for 2015, visit the website.


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