Sunday, 21 February 2016

Going Green at the Whitworth Art Gallery

Earlier this year, the Whitworth Art Gallery re-opened after its renovation and the addition of a building, improving its display capacity. This project was a success and the museum was awarded "Best Museum of the Year" at the end 2015.

It has re-opened with a new perspective: Going Green. The museum itself is now surrounded by vegetation, thanks to the architecture and the open-view windows. However, I was particularly interested in their Green display, which comes with a leaflet created by a local school. The colour green itself has a fascinating story and has been some kind of a mystery for a long time. First, it is really hard to dye fabric in green, which makes the display of a particularly vibrant Egyptian tunic, buried in sand 2000 years ago, even more astonishing.

Christopher Dresser's Fabrics
Christopher Dresser's  Fabrics 

Displays have been well-thought out and you find yourself contemplating Christopher Dresser's wallpapers along with Lucienne Day's fabric, all coming together thanks to their colourful similarities. Some may argue that it is an easy option to gather artworks mainly based on their colour. However, these items have several similarities and not just their colour, they are part of the same museum's collection and are all decorative art artefacts. Also, green is not an easy colour, creating green pigments has been a struggle for centuries. Furthermore, green is the colour of Nature, and its relationship with Art has always been complex. Some theorists have argued for the superiority of Nature over Art and others seeing Art as greater than Nature. John Constable is the best exemple of the complexity of colour green, especially with its painting Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’) (1816-17) at Tate Britain.

John Constable, Flatford Mill ('Scene on a Navigable River') (1816-17) Tate Britain (London)

At the Whitworth, decorative arts, including textiles, are at the heart of the display and in this new "green" art. Sustainability is now at the heart of the fashion world, and the display exhibits a few designers such as Free People who care about the future of our planet and workers’ rights.
Fashion Display // Photo Courtesy of Field Trip

Nowadays, Green is not only a colour but also an idea and an ideal for most. The display does not hide this dimension and promotes the idea of sustainability by promoting and exhibiting "green" fashion and explaining to kids "who made your clothes?". Green as an idea is really powerful and the Whitworth engages with children, mixing art anecdotes and contemporary issues around ecology. A special mention should be made to the quilt by Michelle Walker, Retread 1 (1995), made of bin plastic bags which is an exquisite quilt as well as a powerful statement. 

Michelle Walker, Retread 1 (1995) Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery

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