18th September 2012

Review: Focal Points

Focal Points: a collaborative exhibition exploring the debt of contemporary photographers to traditional artistic themes

Currently filling the walls of the Manchester Art Gallery, Focal Points is an exhibition exploring the medium of photography and the versatility and detail with which it documents modern life. Providing something of a modern art history lesson, the exhibition takes the viewer through the ’80s with Keith Arnatt and Helen Chadwick, the ’90s with YBA’s Sarah Lucas and Jane and Louise Wilson, before showcasing some more recent work by, for example, Nigel Shafran or Melanie Manchot.

The exhibition is designed to reveal the debt of contemporary photographers to traditional artistic themes, as the exhibition’s blurb explains: these images ‘explore the body, reinvent still-life, examine cultural identities and explore the places where we live, work and spend our leisure time.’ An exhibition, then, showcasing both an impressive rostra of names in modern photography and provoking comment on the way we live now, exploring our every day behaviours and encouraging the viewer to reflect on their own habits.

A combination of original works and those collected over the past decade by Manchester City Galleries, the exhibition is diverse – and it hangs together surprisingly well, given the only criteria on the work is that it must be photography, with photographic style ranging dramatically. That range is essential to the appeal, as it means everyone will like something – find one piece to stand in front of and see something of themselves or their own life in.

However, this exhibition is of particular importance because it is delivered in partnership with the Arts Council Collection, supported by Christie’s, thus representing a collective desire to bring interesting and accessible work to Manchester. In the face of funding cuts, surely this approach to programming, which unites institutions and which champions greater access by all to art, is the way forward. As Manchester’s Finest reported, Caroline Douglas, Head of the Arts Council Collection said ‘this collaborative project … throws a spotlight on the importance and value of a sustained programme of collecting in public institutions in this country. In bringing together great works from across the two collections, Manchester Art Gallery epitomises much of what we hope to achieve’.

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