Joy for Ever (The Whitworth)

Exhibition – The Whitworth, Manchester, 29th March – 9th June 2019
Joy for Ever: how to use art to change the world and its price in the market

A new exhibition opening its doors on Friday takes a look at the life, work and impact of artist and social reformer John Ruskin. The parallels between his quest for equality in the 1800s and current concerns around discrimination and accessibility in today’s society can’t fail to strike a chord. The content includes a huge variety of subject matter and artistic technique, all set in The Whitworth’s beautiful building and surroundings.

John Ruskin and Manchester – a synopsis:

Born into a prosperous home in 1819, John Ruskin travelled extensively around Europe with his parents, developing a keen interest in art and architecture. Over time, he became troubled by the comparison between some of the beautiful places he visited and what he considered to be a grimy capitalist environment on his return. In adulthood he became a famed art critic then began to speak out as a lecturer, berating property developers for prioritising profit over the wellbeing of their communities, industrialists for not treating their workers properly and the Victorian bourgeoisie as a whole for neglecting the welfare of the poor. In 1857 Ruskin voiced a particularly scathing attack on the city of Manchester in response to The Great Art Treasures exhibition, a huge collection of artworks amassed from wealthy private owners, epitomising everything he found unjust and unbalanced. His views were not appreciated by the conservative magazine and publisher he wrote for and led to his essays being pulled from publication; he proceeded to publish them instead in his seminal book Unto This Last. He went on to set up The Guild of St George (originally St George’s Company and still a charity today) to pursue his vision of a better society where communities would live more happily working within a network of rural, sustainable farms and be given access to education and museums. Quite what he would make of today’s society where the vulnerable have their benefits withdrawn and food banks are a growing trend is something to ponder. There is no little irony in the fact that the exhibition opens on the day that was due to see the dawning of Brexit but instead finds us amidst a political meltdown of enormous proportions. 

Facade of The Doge’s Palace, Venice – The Vine Angle, 1907.5, John Ruskin © Manchester Art Gallery / Bridgeman Images

Exhibition details:

‘In the 200th anniversary of his birth, The Whitworth responds to the artist, art critic, teacher and social reformer John Ruskin – in a year when his words seem as relevant now as they did then, in a climate of perceived ecological, political and social catastrophe. Ruskin was complex, difficult and flawed, as well as profound. He also hated Manchester, and therefore it seems fitting that the city responds with equal complexity and irreverence.

Joy for Ever combines The Whitworth’s renowned collection of art and design with archival documents, contemporary installations, a cast of the wall of Westminster Hall, a road building, textiles, politics, pictures, a protest on the EBacc by local school children and commissions from Manchester based design studio Standard Practice and Grizedale Arts from the Lake District.

Peter Hodgson and Laure Prouvost, Tile Panel, 2016, Photo by Adam Sutherland

In the first gallery, the displays respond to Ruskin’s question: how can an art collection be used for wider social advantage? Here some of the Whitworth’s collections are curated by the gallery’s Handmade group, who meet regularly as part of a city-wide campaign to develop Manchester as an age-friendly city, alongside Year 9 pupils from Hyndburn Academy in Blackburn in protest against the introduction of the EBacc that devalues arts education in schools.

The next gallery focuses on the relationship between art, architecture and ideas of good governance, speaking of how Gothic style was appropriated in the 19th century and became the architecture of state and commercial power. Ruskin admired the city of Venice as a model society, in which its Gothic buildings were created by the mutual cooperation of architect and craftsman, forming much of his thinking on the relationship between labour and happiness. Depictions of Gothic architecture by Ruskin’s favourite artists JMW Turner and Samuel Prout from The Whitworth’s collection will be displayed.

Jorge Otero-Pailos’ Ethics of Dust, a large-scale latex cast directly from the wall surface of Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament, will be displayed alongside wallpaper designs by Augustus Pugin and Alfred Waterhouse’s designs of Manchester’s neo-Gothic Town Hall.

Both images above: Jorge Otero-Pailos – The Ethics of Dust, Westminster Hall, London, 2016. Commissioned and produced by Artangel, Photos by Marcus J Leith

A new moving image work by Greek artist, Aikaterini Gegisian is included. This draws from the archives of the US Library of Congress and explores the breakdown of the European Union manifested in both the Greek debt crisis and Brexit.

Picture above & header picture: Third Person (Plural): Episode 1: Centrifuge, 2018-19 film stills courtesy of Aikaterini Gegisian

The final gallery explores art’s role in education and social design. Ruskin believed that drawing from nature helps shape our understanding of citizenship. He had a huge teaching collection, often making and commissioning copies of paintings and drawings of natural specimens as tools for instruction. Here a selection of drawings from Manchester’s collections alongside an original lecture diagram, plaster casts of leaves and models of feathers borrowed from The Ruskin Museum are presented. Manchester design studio Standard Practice has been commissioned to make a series of drawing lecterns for visitors to make drawings inspired by the collections on display.

Grizedale Arts marks its 10 year anniversary of projects in Coniston, the town where Ruskin lived for the last 28 years of his life and where he implemented many of his social experiments on craft, farming, water supply, dairy producing etc. This exhibition will present a mini survey of around 100 projects they’ve created to date, such as the Honest Shop, mini library and exhibitions of local crafts with a series of connected making workshops and talks.’

Joy for Ever: how to use art to change the world and its price in the market runs from 29th March – 9th June 2019 – free entry

The Whitworth, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M15 6ER
Opening times: Monday – Wednesday 9-5, Thursday 9-9, Friday – Saturday 9-5, Sunday 10-5 – please check the website for further details of this and other exhibitions before visiting

All images and exhibition details are reproduced with permission from The Whitworth and are copyrighted/owned as credited

Words for introduction and synopsis by Siobhan

27th March 2019