THIS is good for Manchester. In the competition between Northern European cities a strong cultural life including excellent galleries and museums is part of the deal.
“There is no artist in the world who wouldn’t want to work here and now there is nothing they can’t do here"
This £15m refurbishment by MUMA architects doubles the exhibition space, engages fully with the park outside, boosts the study areas and greatly enhances the catering and shop areas. It adds light, it adds subtlety, it opens the building out, it respects the qualities of the older buildings. Artworks have been placed in the grounds.
Maria Balshaw, the Director of The Whitworth, talking to Confidential, is overjoyed about the results: “What I wanted from the architects is for somebody who knows nothing about art, to walk through Whitworth Park and see something strange and marvellous within the building that draws, forces them almost, to come in.”
She pauses and turns with a determined, confident, look.
“There is no artist in the world who wouldn’t want to work here and now there is nothing they can’t do here."
Maria Balshaw (left), Cornelia Parker (right) and the latter's Rodin's Kiss 'with strings attached'
Manchester now has a contemporary gallery which can bring the best international artists to the city. The way Cornelia Parker, for instance, has utilised the new exhibition spaces is exemplary. In War Games 2015 she has filled one gallery with perforated paper negatives from the production run of British Legion Remembrance Day poppies. The scale is overwhelming, the content and pity of the subject deep, the feeling of restfulness visceral.
The works by Cai Qui-Chiang, by Sarah Lucas deliver the same pow-wow.
Sarah Lucas at The Whitworth
This is one of several re-inventions for the gallery. The Whitworth was founded in 1885 through the will of Sir Joseph Whitworth, the archetypal Victorian entrepreneur. He is chiefly remembered as the father of precision engineering pioneering among other things, a universal screw gauge. He came from humble birth in Stockport and rose to international fame and a knighthood, never forgetting that it was the duty of those fortunate in life to spread their wealth.
The main terracotta facade of the Whitworth dates from the first years of the 20th century by JW Beaumont architects and while strong is never beautiful, the interior of the Whitworth marks a complete change of mood. First are the galleries re-modelled by Roger Bickerdike and is one of the great public areas from the 1960s to remain in the North West. It has everything Beaumont’s design lacked: light, open, welcoming and tuned to the display of art. MUMA's work has enhanced and built upon Bickerdike’s work.
The lovely '60s work
It's not only contemporary art here either. The Whitworth Art Gallery, administered by the University of Manchester, has one of the chief collections of British watercolours, historic textiles, engravings, prints, wallpapers plus excellent work from more modern artists.
Individual artists represented include: Durer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Piranesi, Turner, Blake, Morris, Madox-Brown, Rossetti, Van Gogh, Picasso, Moore, Bacon, Lowry, Freud and Hockney. Sculptors of the calibre of Epstein and Paolozzi feature.
This refurbishment is a triumph.
The cafe and restaurant led by Peter Booth - as Confidential revealed here - adds a further element, resting as it does above ground level amidst the trees of Whitworth Park. Open from 8am-10pm this is a test case for independent management of gallery catering in a national scene where most gallery cafes and restaurants are run poorly by operators such as Milburns.
The floating restaurant
If you care about culture in the UK you have to get into the Whitworth as soon as you can.
The Whitworth Art Gallery is at the University of Manchester, Oxford Road, M15 6ER. Free to visit. The Whitworth opens to the public on Saturday 14 February.
Susan Lucas's Tits in space
Susie McMurray Caryatids