Manchester City Art Gallery has a fantastic range of exhibitions on at the moment.
There’s the touring exhibition of Grayson Perry’s six tapestries ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’. They are displayed next to reproductions of William Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress. Grayson Perry’s Channel 4 documentary ‘All in the best possible taste‘ , first shown in June 2012, is also part of the exhibition.
The life story of Grayson Perry’s character, Tim Rakewell, resonates with some of the stories in Jeremy Deller’s touring Hayward exhibition ‘All That is Solid Melts Into Air‘.
Deller uses archive and contemporary film, photographs, music and images to create his view of the impact of the Industrial Revolution on British popular culture and its persisting influences on our lives today.
Downstairs is the ‘Art for All, Thomas Horsfall’s Gift to Manchester‘ exhibition, co- curated by students from St Augustine’s CE Primary School in Harpurhey. Thomas Horsfall was concerned with bringing taste and education through art to the deprived communities of the newly industrialised city of Manchester.
The Manchester Art Museum was housed in Ancoats from the late nineteenth until the mid-twentieth century. Museum and Gallery visits were recognised as essential aspects of a child’s education thanks to his pioneering work.
There’s an extra dimension when you visit these three exhibitions together.
Thomas Horsfall was concerned with education through art and the development of good taste in his own day, at the front line of the effects of industrialisation on the working classes and their dislocation from nature. This exhibition uses nature themed art works and objects from his collection, to illustrate how he did this, chosen by present day school children .
There are links to other works on show in the City Art Gallery’s famous pre Raphaelite collection too, notably sketches by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown.
Head upstairs and Grayson Perry’s tapestries are a contemporary comment on class mobility and taste, aspects of Horsfall’s earlier work in education.
Once you have followed the life and times of Tim Rakewell, you notice links with some of Jeremy Deller’s images and stories. Some of the celebrity family trees and the Adrian Street documentary echo the tale told in the tapestries.
It all starts to hang together.
It is also fantastic to see the way archive material has been used in the exhibitions. The North West Film Archive and The North West Sound Archive both contributed to Jeremy Deller’s exhibition and there are images from the Manchester Local Image Collection in Art for All.
Some of the images of industrialisation used by Jeremy Deller could have come from the collections here at the Greater Manchester Record Office.
It’s exciting to see archives being made us of in this way, and it’s also fascinating to see artists working as anthropologists, folklorists and social historians.
This really is art for all.
It’s interesting to consider phrases used as titles. All that is solid melts into air was written by Karl Marx in his Communist Manifesto. All in the best possible taste was one of comedian Kenny Everett’s catch phrases.