Manchester Art Gallery: You can do it too

Manchester Art Gallery
Mosley Street

"...When we came to live in Manchester 35 years ago, I was thrilled to discover a splendid memorial to Victorian civic benevolence: the city Art Gallery.

It was imposing. It had columns and steps up to the front door. It had an annexe called the Athenaeum where visiting exhibitions were hung, and above all, it was chock full of amazing paintings. I fell in love with the Pre-Raphaelites and even had a chapter in a book of mine ( The Fantora Family Files ) in which all the pictures come magically to life, and the black kitten from Millais's "The Flood" leaps into the bonfire of his famous "Autumn Leaves".

For the past few years, the place has been shrouded in plastic and scaffolding, and the unveiling of the new, improved building has created rather less fanfare than it deserves.

But, first things first. All the old friends are still there, but now some over-the-top vases and silverware pieces have funny little paintings by Tony Ross propped up next to them. The caf was always delightful, but it's much bigger, and looks more stylish. The shop is excellent and the front hall of the building has its noble staircase leading the way up to well-remembered glories.

I was eager, though, to see the extension - the Clore Interactive Gallery - and the new exhibition spaces above it. I went up to the first floor in a glass lift, and found a place full of installations, paintings, and sculpture which not only would keep anyone, child or adult, happily occupied
for hours but which are most beautiful in themselves...

...The gallery, which has a good relationship with Barefoot Books, is planning a joint exhibition of children's book illustration this month and has hosted workshops by storyteller Hugh Lupton and illustrator Clare Beaton. This is a side of the educational programme which promises to be very fruitful, and which other publishers might emulate. Every school in the area now has a tremendous resource on its doorstep and it's to be hoped that curriculum pressure doesn't prevent them from making the most of it. I want to go back and see more, see better.

Read the full version of this review in this week's TES, page 17

Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL. Tel: 0161 235 8888; www.manchestergalleries.org
Open Tuesday to Saturday 10am-5pm, admission free.
'New Indian Art: Home, Street, Bazaar, Shrine, Museum' to September 1; 'Imagine', an exhibition of children's book artwork in association with Barefoot Books, runs from September 21 to November 17.
The Fantora Family Files by Adle Geras will be republished by Oxford University Press next year.

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