Jonathan Schofield lists several attention-grabbers in the city centre
The streets of a city can themselves provide art, should you have the eyes to see and the hands to push open a few doors.
Below you'll find a list of eight artworks that can be viewed on a stroll around Manchester city centre most days. Some of them can be found outside, some on the inside of buildings.
None are found within established art galleries, museums or libraries, though there is one outside Central Library, a couple in churches and plenty sprayed across the Northern Quarter.
Touchstone by Kam Yasuda - Bridgewater Hall
Sweet and smooth is the vast pebble outside the Bridgewater Hall. This 1996 work by Japanese artist Kam Yasuda sums up what good public art should generally be: big, strong and climbable. It introduces a naturalistic element into a very urban landscape and delivers a sense of calmness, a moment of tranquillity, a pause. It is an apt form for fronting a building dedicated to music.
Women Like You (Charlotte Newson) and Civic Pride (Anon) - Rates Hall, Town Hall Extension
Two for the price of one here, and both deeply symbolic for the city. Charlotte Newson’s 2008 ‘big head’ of the mother of suffragettism, Emmeline Pankhurst, is made up ‘of 10,000 individual images of inspiring women – sent in by members of the public from all corners of the globe’. It’s called Women Like You and is striking and bold, just like its subject.
Appropriately it sits in the Rates Hall of the Town Hall Extension under the best Manchester Coat of Arms in the city. This rigorous example of civic pride with its globe covered by Manchester bees and its shield capped by a fine sailing ship sums up the wealth and ambition of the nineteenth century city; the desire to show Manchester’s influence across the world. It is also a curious counterpoint to the Newson work, revealing how one type of city pride can ignore another type of city pride. Newson’s work was the first artwork of any scale to celebrate Mancunian Emmeline Pankhurst in her city of birth. 2008 was shamefully late for that.
Adrift by John Cassidy - Central Library
John Cassidy himself described the 1907 work thus: ‘Humanity adrift on the sea of life, depicting life’s sorrows and dangers, hopes and fears, embodying the dependence of human beings upon one another, the response of human sympathy to human needs and the inevitable dependence upon divine aid.’ Cassidy probably drew a breath at that point. He's being grand here, conceptual, allegorical too. He’s jumping on the ‘New Sculpture’ movement of the time which was freeing itself up from the strictures and demands of corseted Victorian and Edwardian society.
Stations of the Cross by Norman Adams - St Mary's Church
The ornate marble interior of St Mary’s (‘The Hidden Gem’) RC church in the city centre with all its Caen stone statuary became exponentially more eye-opening with the addition in 1993 of Norman Adams’ Stations of the Cross. These graphic, full of energy, discordant images, contrast violently with the nineteenth century interior. They are perhaps the bravest of the commissions in this list of eight given the nature of the aging congregation that often occupies the church. As Sir Phillip Dowson, ex-President of the Royal Academy wrote, they ‘are one of the great ecclesiastical commissions in our country of (the twentieth) century, an act of inspired patronage. It is a brave man who looks straight into the death mask in the crucifixion.’
Cities of Hope by various artists - Northern Quarter/Ancoats
The whole of the Northern Quarter is becoming one huge art exhibition and there are numerous works that should be in this list, but to make up eight artworks we wanted to make sure there was a range of art from over the centuries. In the Northern Quarter the magnificent portraits by Akse are always worth a long look, as is Peter Freeman’s illuminated Neon Neon Light Tower on the Church Street car park. But the huge Cities of Hope murals that appeared in 2016 are the most dramatic.
A personal favourite is the vivid work between Oldham Street and Spear Street, that appears to stare straight and proud at the viewer. The artist was Dale Grimshaw and his theme is globalisation. He’s said: ‘(There is one) main figure with a rich baroque wallpaper background of gold and red. I like the regal feel of this colour combination, implying the people in the paintings are kings and queens in their own right’. Public art is best when it makes an impact, and from 100 metres up in City Tower on a recent trip, Grimshaw’s piece drew the eye from across the city.
Mural by William Mitchell - Mercure Hotel
Ah yes, the marvellous optimism of the 1960s. A well-known artist of the period was William Mitchell and he was prolific around Manchester. For instance, the strange Minute Men sculptures, the very epitome of concrete Brutalism, at Salford University, are strangely mesmeric. In the city centre within another Brutalist building, the Mercure Hotel (formerly the Piccadilly Hotel), is another Mitchell work. This is the city’s most curious mural, crawling up four floors of the hotel from the oddly located reception level. It’s a resin work imprisoning bottle tops and apparently parts of a deconstructed piano. There are bits of gravel in there too. Images of peacocks and fanciful buildings appear but what it is all about is anybody’s guess. It sums up the mood of the sixties when it seemed the old fuddy-duddy world of deference and formality was shattering.
The Manchester Sentry by Charles Jagger - Britannia Hotel
This is one of the most unforgettable memorials of World War One. Erected in 1921, in what was the warehouse of the Watts family, it marks the sacrifice of so many of their employees. The warehouse is now the Britannia Hotel, sadly. This Manchester warrior is defiant and watchful, but weary too, exuding from all his metallic pores and metallic folds ‘the pity of War’, as poet Wilfred Owen (an officer in the Manchester Regiment) described it.
There is no better work in the city to individualise the conflict and put a face to the ghastly statistics of death as the European powers threw their men onto the guns and the wire. The sculptor, Charles Sargeant Jagger, originally from Rotherham, had served in the war and had been wounded. He knew the war from the inside hence the almost hyper-realism of the details on this work, the best figurative sculpture in the city by a country mile.
Cathedral Choir - Manchester Cathedral
Beauty, craft, symbolism, venerability are all pulled together in the second ‘holy’ space in this list. The choir of Manchester Cathedral provides some of the greatest examples of medieval wood carving in the Kingdom. First comes the rich choir screen, a gloriously ornate introduction to the joys beyond. Most of the carving here was completed in the years around 1500. On entry you are surrounded by the exquisite stalls, or seats. These are surmounted by a myriad of superbly carved canopies: each an elegant mass of spires and crochets resembling a series of perfect churches, like a late medieval imagining of a new Jerusalem.
There is symbolism everywhere – on the benches in front of the choir sits a lion representing Christ and a dragon representing the Devil. Under the main seats are the misericords – brackets to help support occupants during long periods of standing. The carvings under these carry an impish sense of humour not often associated with the times. Here you’ll find men playing backgammon in a tavern, a woman scolding a man who’s broken her cooking pots and rabbits cooking the hunter. The place is magical. You realise that for the faithful or the humanist such as me, there is nothing new under the sun. You realise the human capacity for beauty and the human desire for meaning.