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12th February 2021

Is it Art?: Welcome back

Sam Burt considers what the bittersweet signs of the Whitworth Gallery might mean to us now
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Is it Art?: Welcome back
Photo: SAM BURT@MANCUNION

Ceci n’est pas une pipe, Magritte wrote under his painting of a pipe. ‘This is not a pipe.’

Had the internet existed back then, I’m sure it would’ve been the white-gold/blue-black dress of its day. But it is a pipe! No, it’s not! Of course it is! Nuh-huh…it’s only a representation of one! (Little-known fact: Magritte also invented the eye-roll emoji.)

I think that, perhaps, strolling past the shuttered Whitworth each morning, they have left up their ‘Welcome Back’ sign in the same spirit. First, my sleep-befuddled brain does a double-take: but how are they…ah. No. It’s just a relic from a better time. (That golden age known as ‘November’.) Second, I get to debating with myself whether leaving it up is an affront to decency or a reminder of better times ahead.

No doubt the banners have remained up for practical reasons to do with the fiddly-looking metal loops fixing it to pillars. But enough of that. Leave the bean-counters to their precious ‘hoops.’ Let’s imagine a cheeky surrealist at work. Let’s suppose that they were tasked with taking them down months ago but nobody who works there has bothered to check since.

What is the ‘real’ meaning of the words ‘Welcome Back’ here? Welcome back to the Lockdown you thought you’d escaped from, perhaps. Welcome back to the street you walk down to go to the supermarket.

Consider, too, the possibly ironic positioning of the banners, spanning the space between columns as if to block the entrance they encourage you to take. Suddenly those metal hoops start to look like manacles. ‘Welcome back,’ they tease us. ‘Well? What’re you waiting for?’ Are those bright yellow triangles rays of hope or demonic eyes, warning us to keep our distance?

Verdict: I need to get more sleep. 


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