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Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery to re-open after £15 million makeover

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 February 2015

Whitworth Art Gallery

Whitworth Art Gallery

not Archant

After a year-long shut-down and a £15million refurbishment, the region has a gallery fit for the 21st century, write Barbara Waite

Francis Bacon 'Portrait of Lucian Freud'  1951. Coutesy of the Whitworth Francis Bacon 'Portrait of Lucian Freud' 1951. Coutesy of the Whitworth

A £15m love token for the city of Manchester was being unwrapped on Valentine’s Day. The 125-year-old Whitworth Art Gallery – closed for more than a year – has been transformed into a sleek 21st Century gallery in the park.

Part of the University of Manchester, the grand old building now has an elegant glass, stainless steel and brick extension in the form of two wings on the back of the building, doubling the public space and creating new facilities.

Leading with a major solo exhibition from one of Britain’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, Cornelia Parker, the opening programme will celebrate the Whitworth’s extensive collection of historical and contemporary fine art, textiles and wallpapers.

The project was led by MUMA (McInnes Usher McKnight Architects) and the design of the extension has been influenced by the Whitworth’s textile collection. The money has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the University, Arts Council England and grants from a number of other groups.

J.M.W. Turner 'Sunset on Wet Sand' 1845.  Coutesy of the Whitworth J.M.W. Turner 'Sunset on Wet Sand' 1845. Coutesy of the Whitworth

Drawing on the Whitworth’s heritage as the first English gallery in a park, the new wings create an art garden between them and will be connected by a glass promenade gallery overlooking the surrounding landscape. The landscape gallery wing will provide exhibition space for the display of landscape works and large scale sculptures.

Across the promenade, a beautiful linear café extends into the trees in Whitworth Park. A large window in the centre of the existing building will reveal a sight line into the main exhibition space, connecting the gallery to the surrounding park beyond.

This increased exhibition and public space will allow the Whitworth to show, share and care for its significant collection of more than 55,000 historical and contemporary works. Extensive refurbishment of the existing gallery building has included restoring the volume of the three 19th Century barrel-vaulted exhibition gallery ceilings to house major, large-scale shows.

Visitors will be able to access the reinstated Grand Hall on the first floor through glorious Edwardian staircases returned to public use for the first time in more than 50 years.

Emily Young, 'Maremma Warrior Head V'  2011. Courtesy the artist and The Fine Art Society Emily Young, 'Maremma Warrior Head V' 2011. Courtesy the artist and The Fine Art Society

The new Art Garden and an Orchard Garden have been designed by Chelsea gold medallist Sarah Price, who co-designed the 2012 Olympic Park gardens in London. Loosely clipped, evergreen hedging has been arranged to form rolling, distorted clouds varying in height and shape.

Extending the exhibition space beyond the gallery walls, has meant that a significant number of new outdoor sculptures by artists including Christine Borland, Nate Lowman, Simon Periton and Nico Vascellari can be displayed.

The enclosed Orchard Garden and wildflower area will offer a place for relaxation and reflection as well as support the Whitworth’s work to promote the biodiversity of the park

Dr Maria Balshaw, director of the Whitworth, said: ‘We have long held the view that the gallery and the park should be a unified experience for our visitors. Our new building makes this a reality.’

Cornelia Parker. 'Cold Dark Matter, An Exploded View'  1991. Photographer Hugo Glendinning Cornelia Parker. 'Cold Dark Matter, An Exploded View' 1991. Photographer Hugo Glendinning

Her thoughts were echoed by Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor at the university. ‘The £15m expansion is a fantastic example of the University’s commitment to using its knowledge and resources to engage with our local audiences and to draw people from all over the world to the University and the city,’ she said.

The Opening Programme

The spectacular Whitworth re-opens on February 14 with a major solo exhibition from one of Britain’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, Cornelia Parker, whose work invites viewers to witness the transformation of ordinary objects into something compelling and extraordinary. Other exhibitions include:

*Cai Guo-Qiang is a leading Chinese-born contemporary artist, known for his remarkable projects using gunpowder, including the firework displays for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. His installation Unmanned Nature (2008), a forty-five metre long, four metre high gunpowder drawing, will be the first artwork shown in the Whitworth’s new Landscape Gallery.

*New Acquisitions: The Karpidas Foundation. This exhibition will celebrate the recent major gift of 90 contemporary works of art to the Whitworth. These works show the range and depth of the Foundation’s engagement with current artistic practice. The exhibition will highlight the work of the now well-established Young British Artists.

*Portraits. This show about the lives and the relationships between the artists, collectors and curators who made the Whitworth includes Francis Bacon’s portrait of his friend Lucian, Sir Stanley Spencer’s drawing of Margaret Pilkington, honorary director of the Whitworth for more than 20 years.

*Johnnie Shand Kydd. As an emerging photographer, Shand Kydd created hundreds of now iconic black and white images of his artist friends and has continued to track the progress of figures such as Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin, Gilbert and George and Damien Hirst.

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