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Review: Absent Presence at Manchester Art Gallery

How can a subject be present in an artwork yet absent at the same time?

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This exhibition is inspired by Callum Innes’ work Exposed Painting Green Lake, 2012, which has recently been acquired by Manchester Art Gallery. More than this, it focuses closely on Innes’ technique, which you could also call his subject matter; a process of ‘un-painting’. His works are characterised by his process of building up layers of paint and then removing them, leaving traces, or evidence of existence. Areas of black paint are usually permitted to be left un-scraped from the canvas and negotiate for territory in the geometric arena of the un-painted, forging a relationship between negative and positive, addition and subtraction, absence and presence.

Paintings from the gallery’s own collection have been selected to add to this dialogue, a selection that spans an incredible four centuries. To select work so diverse for an exhibition in such a small room, all inspired by a contemporary abstract painting, is a bold move for a public gallery that has been criticised for perhaps being a bit boring. This exhibition is in no way boring: The curator has managed to make a show that is small in size, but dynamic, exciting and bold in stature.

The strongest feature of this exhibition is the way in which a simple concept has been so successfully deployed through works that are hundreds of years apart in their making, and would otherwise have no or little correspondence with each other. The vision is simple yet effective and completely coherent in an exhibition full of opposites and contrasts.

At Manchester Art Gallery until the 3rd of January 2016.