The First Cut

Yesterday, Brian and I went to the Manchester Art Gallery to see The First Cut exhibition. The MAG is a nice gallery, although it has an  incredibly frustrating layout so that you have to go through a rather small corridor through the gift shop to get to the exhibitions. They never seem to use the big glass doors that would take you right to the galleries. Frustrations with poor layout aside, we generally like the exhibitions that come to the gallery (although we always wish they were larger and/or rotated more frequently and would love it if they’d sort out their poor signage and lighting…now I sound like a total whiner).

The First Cut is an exhibition focused on paper-based art. It is a relatively sweet exhibition with some large-scale work alongside quite intimate pieces. The real star of the show was the exhibition in the second room (see below). While walking around looking at the intricate cutting, folding and reforming of paper, I kept thinking of my sister Rose’s boyfriend Ian who is an origami master. He would have loved this exhibition, I think. It was impressive to see such delicate material being employed in such a diverse set of approaches.

This brief post covers a few of the highlights of the exhibition, which I’d recommend checking out if you have a free twenty minutes in Manchester city center between now and January 27th 2013.

A Japanese artist installed a ‘forest’ of paper leaves on paper stems that you could walk through and another artist created an installation using a plant guidebook which he cut out to form a little field of flowers:

It was a bit hard to look at the wall text about the leaf forest because of the strobing light that was focused badly onto the wall. I couldn’t tell if a light was about to burn out or if this effect was somehow intentional (I hope it wasn’t intentional – and look I’m complaining again…sorry).

An entire section of the (small) exhibition focused on works that responded to or were constructed out of books. A lovely stop-frame animation by Andersen M Studios (a sample of which is online) shows how much time and detail must go into creating these works of art. The animation is totally stunning.

There were several topographical pieces where stacks of paper had been shaved into landmass-like shapes. A number of pieces used maps, birds, and historical travel books as their source material and subject.

One artist in the book section of the exhibition had butterflies literally flying off the page:

Some of the installations were large-scale, like this slightly goth-inspired one that took up one wall section in the main exhibition space:

But the real delight of the exhibition was the room dedicated to the work of Kara Walker, who I adore. Unfortunately, you’d have to either know her work or be lucky to find the tiny bit of wall text, inelegantly tacked onto a column in the space. Such a shame as without understanding the context I wonder how many people get the full variety of references she is drawing upon. Here are a few snaps of the installation:

Her work references the history of slavery in the US and is often sexual and whimsical. The installation takes up all four walls and is incredibly sophisticated compared to the other works on display. You get a sense of the clarity of her conceptual framework by having an entire room dedicated to the piece – there was little to get in the way or distract from the work itself. I was glad to see a gallery attendant smoothing over the pieces of the installation that had come unstuck (although he couldn’t reach a dangling foot that badly needed re-adhesion). Although I enjoyed a number of the pieces in the first room, the Kara Walker installation felt like it was in a class unto itself.

On our way out, we noticed that one poor artist has had her work shoved into a corner on the other side of the Kara Walker exhibition on the way to a closed door. I imagine most people will miss this artists work – I didn’t see it until Brian pointed it out. I have no idea why the gallery would have put that piece in such an inaccessible place. Ah well… hopefully we aren’t the only ones who will discover it hidden in its little corner.

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