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25th February 2016

Review: The Face of Change

David Coggins’ nine paintings about the history of Manchester Victoria are secretly tucked away in the station

As Victoria Station enters into its new era, to what extent could we see art exhibitions as a standard facility for passengers? Opposite the entrance to the Metrolink, and right next door to the toilets at Victoria Station, you can find an exhibition space. Even with the A-board outside and the posters in the window, you’d be forgiven for walking past it without acknowledging its existence. The main problem is that in order to access this space, you need to walk through an unlabelled closed door. This isn’t a normal thing to do at a train station; you’d have thought that a closed door would mean no access, unless it was clearly labelled, which is made even more confusing being next door to the toilets. I think the first time I saw it I assumed it was probably a cleaning cupboard. Once you’ve decided to venture into the space, you’ll then need to come to terms that you’re on your own, with no welcomers and no guardians of the artwork —unless you count CCTV and the odd crowd barrier. I wonder how many people make it this far.

The current exhibition is composed of paintings by David Coggins depicting various stages of Victoria’s history and redevelopment. The main focus of the display is a group of 9 paintings hung in a 3 x 3 formation to make a single grid of images that are coherent in form, textural in style and full of Mancunian character. Site-specific exhibitions always have a lot to offer and there’s a really interesting inside and outside idea at play here. Operating in the same field of vision as these paintings is a huge window, broken up into 6 panels and looking out into the station, where we can see the daily hustle and bustle of station life being played out for real, whilst we stand in this solitary semi-closed sanctuary.

Along with the art, there’s some odd pieces of furniture in this space; a two seater settee, an empty book case, and a rectangular school table. The furniture gives a welcoming impression and invites a certain use of the space, which is an odd relation to the closed door at the entrance. But what is much more interesting is the concept for the use of this space; it is at present totally devoted as a temporary exhibition venue, which has delivered a few different shows now, including an excellent ceramics exhibition a couple of months ago. This may well be because the station’s management has no other use for the space, or that they are waiting for a new shop to take residence, or it may well be because they believe in an exhibition space as a facility for customers. I would hope that the latter is true, although it is a positive thing either way. Making art more accessible to the public, in whatever form and in whatever way can only be a good thing and there are definitely too many closed spaces in Manchester for which this could be done.

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