Review: Joana Vasconcelos in Manchester

Britannia 2014

Britannia 2014

I’ve been visiting Manchester Art Gallery since my student days. Mr T and I would spend many Sunday mornings “mooching” around the exhibitions, and when the teen was a “tiny tot”, few trips into town were complete without popping in to see what was new.

In recent years, the creative team behind the gallery exhibitions have brought a vibrancy to the gallery, fresh, modern and fun are words I use to describe the space to people who aren’t familiar with this “gem” (alongside the traditional pieces in the collection which are on permanent display).

I had  been looking forward to visiting the latest exhibition, Joana Vasconcelos’ Time Machine  and when I heard that a curator tour and talk by Emma Varnam had been organised as part of the “Thursday Late” series I knew this was the perfect opportunity to make a visit (I’ll be honest, the first of many, I already have plans to go back and to take the Teen when she comes home for Easter.

Big Booby 2

Big Booby 2

I’ve written quite a long piece here, although it hardly seems to do the exhibition justice. You really need to see it for yourself. These photos are only a small snapshot of what is on display – and I’ve mostly included the textile pieces – there’s much more to see throughout the gallery.

Bestie 2014

Bestie 2014

‘Joana Vasconcelos: Time Machine’

Described by the gallery as “seductive and subversive”, Joana Vasconcelos has brought her  large-scale sculptures to Manchester for an exclusive site specific exhibition which runs until 1st June. This major new show features over twenty of the Portuguese artist’s most significant sculptures, which fill the gallery’s major exhibition spaces, adorn the exterior of the gallery and can also be found within the gallery’s permanent collection in spaces across the whole gallery building. It’s a breathtaking sight to walk into the building and see Britannia in all her glory!

Britannia (2014) is made up of  brightly coloured organic forms that cascade down the  stairs from the main exhibition galleries and spill over the balconies into the atrium. Britannia is composed of many fabric elements including knitting and crochet, fine silks and cotton velvets (referred to as Manchester cloth across much of the world), recycled clothes and industrially produced textiles, embellished with Portuguese tassels, crystals and beads in a riotous patchwork of patterns, shapes and textures.hanging. Our enthusiastic curator described how this new piece, from the iconic ‘Valkyries’ series is inspired by a previous work, Contamination, which was originally conceived for the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo in 2008 and reconfigured for the historic Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 2011. Listening to the curator describe how the piece was commissioned and installed was mesmerising. I would never have thought the huge pieces were held together with zips! Pom poms, fringing, fur yarn all feature in a playful and quirky piece which really defies description no matter how hard I try.

Tutti Frutti 2011

Tutti Frutti 2011

Two of my favourite pieces, The sculptures Tutti Frutti (2011) and Fruit Cake (2011) from the series “Treats” are positioned outside the gallery  on either side of the building (Princess Street and Nicholas Street). These works, an oversized ice-cream cone and a giant cupcake, are made from plastic toys used by children to cast shapes in sand and they are truly captivating. It’s rare to see small children slow down as they approach the gallery building, but I watched mothers with pushchairs stand while their little ones simply gazed at the huge sculptural ice cram cornet.

Fruit Cake 2011

Fruit Cake 2011

Quoted in the press release I received about the event Joana Vasconcelos says: “It is a privilege to see my work go on show in Manchester Art Gallery’s remarkable spaces. I am particularly proud of the dialogue established between Manchester Art Gallery’s collection and my works, as well as the interaction between the city’s history and traditions and other realities of entirely different provenances – such as those specific to my homeland. Time Machine will certainly be one of the most challenging and noteworthy shows of my career.”

Bond Girl 2014

Bond Girl 2014

About Joana Vasconcelos

Joana Vasconcelos is a Portuguese artist, born in Paris in 1971, who lives and works in Lisbon, Portugal. Primarily a sculptor, she is renowned for her sense of scale, choice of materials and mastery of colour. A meticulous craftsmanship connects all her work which is ambitious, seductive, humorous and exuberant. She achieved major international recognition when her sculpture The Bride, a 5m high chandelier comprised of 25,000 tampons, was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2005. Since then her career has gone from strength to strength including recent solo exhibitions at the Château de Versailles in 2012 (where she was the first woman and the youngest artist ever to exhibit work), Palácio Nacional da Ajuda, Lisbon in 2013 and Trafaria Praia, the Portuguese Pavillion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.


Photo Credits: Pictures For Press

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