Posted By Sandra Alland

Wow. Just got back from a much-needed break in Manchester. Unfortunately I couldn't walk as much as I would've liked to (because of post-stressful-employment pain), but wow. Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism is perhaps the best show I have ever seen. Dr Patricia Allmer curated this exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, and has put together an incredible historical collection, as well as mind-blowing art by amazing international artists. There's Frida Kahlo, Kay Sage, Dora Maar, Claude Cahun, Eileen Agar, Lee Miller, Leonora Carrington, Meret Oppenheim & Dorothea Tanning, just for starters. Honestly, it was stunning stunning stunning to see these artists collected so extensively in one place. There are paintings, photographs, films, collages, exquisite corpses, sculptures & books. You really get a sense of what was going on in surrealist art, of how important these women were to that movement, and to art and feminist thought in general.

It was also wonderful to see the work of highly talented artists who have been even more under-exhibited than those mentioned above -- mainly from Argentina, Mexico, India and former Czechoslovakia. Lola Alvarez Bravo, Leonor Fini, Remedios Varo, Ithell Colquhoun, Emila Medkova and Eva Swankmajerova, to name a few. The show gave me a sense of lineage that I've never felt before... this is work by, and often for, women -- and work of such high calibre that relegating it to a separate category (or footnote in the margins of history) is ridiculous. There's also work that explores gender identity in a less binary way (as surrealism itself explored the world beyond binaries), allowing a transgender narrative to enter into art history... if only quietly in the work of Cahun. Yay for Patricia Allmer! Continues to 10 January, do not miss it!

The experience was bittersweet, though, for as you travel throughout the remainder of the gallery everything remains as male as always. The gallery shop has only one small and temporary section of women's and feminist books; the rest of the shop continues to promote male artists through books, posters and calendars. There was one calendar of Tamara de Lempicka, though...

In other art news, Manchester Art Gallery's show of Francisco Goya's etchings The Fantasies, The Disasters of War and The Follies is also stunning, as is the accompanying installation, The Disasters of War, by the Chapman Brothers. As always, the Chapman Brothers' gruesome detail of the horrors of war and occupation left me feeling sad, sick and slightly faint. Goya's work didn't help much... but what more fitting way is there to feel when faced with the atrocities of war. Sadly, despite Goya's fame, these works were not shown or published in his lifetime because of their controversial or disturbing subject matter. Luckily Manchester Art Gallery respects its audience enough to show these still-disturbing and extremely violent works, and without any condescending warnings. This is even more impressive when you consider MAG is known as one of the most child-friendly galleries in the UK... but perhaps it's only Scotland that is so paternalistic with its art-goers as to limit or label what they see?

In accessibility notes, MAG is great... there are audio guides for the shows and large-print versions of text available, plus you can book BSL tours upon request. You can even borrow a wheelchair if you need to! Some of the works could have been hung lower for people using chairs to view, but overall they score four stars for accessibility.

Okay, back to bed with me.


 
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