But I went to see the hall's new Transcultural Gallery, which has been launched to coincide with the independence celebrations. Education officer Vicky Mitchell says the new gallery has the largest collection of contemporary South Asian art in Britain, which is put in context by being displayed alongside objects from the past and with work from contemporary British artists.
She says the gallery is "full of surprises; the idea is to show links and cross-overs, to make connections between works from different cultures". Contemporary art and crafts, calligraphy, textiles and gold and silver objects are all on show - a strange mix, you might think, but it works. The contemporary work provides the flash of excitement, the other work provides a point of reference.
Some of the represented artists live in the subcontinent, many are British-born but of Indian or Pakistani descent. Among them is Anish Kapoor, whose stainless steel "Turning the world inside out" takes pride of place in the sculpture court. Installed on a black and white marble floor with a classical statue as counterpoint, its shining orb reflecting and being reflected by its surroundings, Kapoor's work epitomises the spirit of the new gallery.
Some of the works are linked to each other and to mythology through their theme. Trupti Patel's ceramic "Rocking Elephant", for example, cosies up to Jamini Roy's drawing "Elephant and Calf", their whimsical charm thrown into relief by the greater solemnity of Dhruva Mistry's bronze "Guardian Angels". Perminder Kaur's sculpture "Nightdress", in textile and metal, looks back with a piece of chain-mail armour belonging to the 19th-
century Emperor Ranjit Singh. Conversely, a vibrant painted hanging by Fahmida Shah was inspired by a heavy metal exhibition at Cartwright Hall itself.
Continuing on the intriguing journey you move from a slate and water sculpture by Antarjeet Dhanjal to a print of "David's Pool" by Howard Hodgkin, whose own collection of Indian miniatures is well known. The David is, of course, Hockney who is represented by a colour-sated pool picture of his own - "Le Plongeur" - which is made from paper pulp. Sensibility and technique are also at play so that an exotic pictorial alphabet by Balraj Khanna has affinities with a score of calligraphic works.
There is a rich ore to be mined as far as education is concerned. The three-strong gallery education team has recently made a CD-Rom featuring 70 works from the collections with extensive examples of hands-on projects for schools. To give one example, Joseph Staniland's painting "The Emigrant Ship" showing Victorian Britons leaving Liverpool for the New World, is used with Shanti Panchal's haunting "First Day", depicting a child embarking on his first day at school. The contrast opens up room for a discussion about change and the insecurity of the unknown - not to speak of the fact that people leave Britain as well as settle here. Pupils can make a three-dimens ional version of the Emigrant Ship, dress up in Victorian clothes for role play, prepare a performance or devise poetry round the themes.
Other projects focus on colour and technique and involve making papier mch animal constructions, group floor pieces, linocuts, collage or even wrapping chairs and tables in the style of Christo!
Schools normally make half-day visits for an introductory tour followed by a drawing session with materials provided. The CD-Rom has information on 70 works, plus interviews with artists, and brims with examples for practical work which have all been tried and tested with local schools. Sound is in Urdu as well as in English. #163;30. For booking, contact the education department on 01274 493313.