Exchanges: Exhibition Review part II

‘Exchanges’ Part II at Whitworth Art Gallery

Last September I wrote a review for ‘Exchanges‘ at Whitworth Art Gallery, and within that review I said I’d go back and see it again based on the fact that this is a changing exhibition. This idea is that the works will change and be replaced during the exhibition period, that’s an idea I’m still not sure about. I felt it was a little naughty of Whitworth, forcing you to revisit to see what’s changed, but not advertising a rota of when and what will be changing. It definitely creates a bit of FOMO. So anyway, I’ve been back, I’m still not happy about this concept, but I did think the artwork this time round was slightly better.

I asked, in that original review – is it even the same exhibition if nothing is the same from start to finish? Well, nothing was the same. Every piece of work I saw back in September had gone, replaced with new artists and new works. I have no idea at what stage things changed and I have no idea what I missed in between. What if they had something incredible like a Frida Kahlo, or a Jeff Koons, or Peter Blake? I mean, I doubt it, but the point still stands! What have I missed?

I just found read that this exhibition (originally due to end in April) has been extended till February 2020! That’s an awfully long time to keep changing everything, and not give the viewers an idea of what’s showing and what’s changing. I also think it is a little lazy of Whitworth. They have loads of space, it’s a huge gallery, so it may be difficult to fill it constantly, I get that. But to keep churning out work from their collection, to not organise anything new, for almost 2 years (it started in March 2018), is that not a bit of a cop out? I mean, I am no gallery owner, I’ve put together like three exhibitions in my time (mainly whilst at Uni), but then I am not claiming to be one of the biggest galleries in Manchester and I haven’t recently had a £15million investment!

Another small note to make, is that not only has the artwork changed, but the description of the exhibition has changed too! It definitely feels like a weird way for Whitworth to say something new, but without the effort of promoting and adverting it. In September, the blurb said:

‘Exchanges sets art and artists together, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in opposition – always with insight and intention. Works encourage dialogue about expectations of female behaviour, others elevate discarded objects to the status of art and challenge our ideas about what should be shown in museums. While others consider how we make order out of a disordered world.’

Now it reads:

‘Our collection of drawings, prints, paintings and sculpture has historically favoured white male artists, reflecting the traditional narrative of Western art history. In our collecting today, we are trying to rectify the historic imbalance between white male artists and other artists who have been sidelined because they are female, non-white, non-Western, LGBTQ+ or marginalised due to mental health or physical disability.’

How can they get away with calling this the same exhibition? Is it just me that is annoyed by this?

So this ‘Exchanges Part II’, it’s a review of a new exhibition under an old name. The works in this exhibition do seem to be more connected, they seem to have more in common. On first glance I see a mix of colours, either in strong, bold, brush strokes, or drawings on different coloured backgrounds, or in thick pastel pens. Everything seems very rainbow like this time.

The stand out piece for me was Albert Irvin ‘Honeywell’. Irvin’s work also in Manchester Art Gallery as part of ‘And Breathe...’. ‘Honeywell’ is meant to be a description of living in the hustle of the city. However, I found it too bright and bold to be a city, or perhaps didn’t seem like a city in the UK. We’re notoriously known for being ‘grey’, the grey weather, grey buildings etc. Yet this was bright, reds, oranges, blues. It felt more like a city of colour, a foreign culture, like a Mexican city perhaps? As I look more, I do start to see a map of the street. Perhaps it’s the trail, the foot print and movements of people. But it’s kind of musical to me, the movement and flow, the body and colour, it’s almost like a party, or the movement of a Spanish dancer, twirling her skirt to a fancy flamenco


I notice some work of Cecily Brown, which we’ve seen at Whitworth not too long ago. I thought the idea of ‘Exchanges’ was to display something new each time, but it also seems Whitworth is repeating itself. Taking from the collection, as a regular visitor, I feel a little short-changed. This links back to my recent review of the other exhibition there, ‘Facing Out‘ where the exhibition was bulked out with paintings from Whitworth’s collection. Do you think they’ve had a budget cut or something?

‘The Best of Emin’

There was a Tracey Emin piece there, ‘The Best of Emin’. This huge carpet-like piece, on first glance looked like something the kids make as a community project. You know the ones, everyone has to sew a square and it all gets stitched together to be put up in the school. To show how people can work together and create a beautiful piece to be proud of. However, when you look closely, you realise, in a classic Emin way, it is quite dark with adult themes of sex and masturbation. The whole piece, I believe to be a way of Emin showcasing ‘the best of her’ in terms of what other people think of her. For example, next the the rosette of ‘boobs’ is another one that says ‘too small.’ It’s very clever in that on first glance it is childish and innocent looking, but then you read the words ‘Tracey fuck me’ and it’s take a whole other turn.


I don’t know why I am in such a bad mood with Whitworth Art Gallery at the moment. I just think the two exhibitions I’ve seen recently haven’t done anything for me. They aren’t giving me anything new, they aren’t pushing the boat out. You are suppose to be a leading gallery in the Manchester, if not the North West. As I said, I don’t know if it’s budget cuts or just laziness. I’m starting to sound like some other art critics that complain about everything and I really don’t want to be that way. But honestly, am I seeing things differently to everyone else? Does anyone else agree with me or am I being stupid?

I feel like the overall emotion of this review is a shrug, mixed with a sigh. I just want to give Whitworth a kick up the ass! What happened to the days you had Andy Warhol? Sort it out!

Exchanges‘ is on at Whitworth Art Gallery from March 2018 – February 2020.

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  1. Eve

    This blog doesn’t convince me by complaining constantly of being annoyed for little reason other than ‘FOMO’. It is contradictory, too: it complains that the Whitworth is putting on an exhibition that changes frequently, but also complains that the gallery is ‘not giving me anything new’ and not ‘pushing the boat out’. From the Whitworth’s exhibition descriptions – which the author quotes – it seems they really are trying to ‘push the boat out’ by refusing to let big names dominate their exhibitions and by including a greater variety of artists in addition to white men. The author doesn’t seem to realise the irony of their complaint about the days the Whitworth exhibited Andy Warhol! Rather than the Whitworth, it seems the author of this blog is lazy, not even being bothered to spell check their writing, not least engage with what the Whitworth may be trying to do because it makes them feel out of control.

    • cottononmcr

      Hi Eve. Thanks for your comment, it’s good to hear your feedback. Yes I will admit my spelling can be incorrect sometimes and WordPress who power my blog, also didn’t pick up any errors! I will read that back now and correct any mistakes. Aside from that, I think FOMO is a bit of a problem! If you are a fan of art and exhibitions, why should you miss out?! You should have the opportunity to see all the work on display but you can’t here, you get a random selection based on the date you visit. Maybe if there was a schedule of when each piece was on display it might help. Yes, I understand your point that what the Whitworth is trying to do is create an ever-changing exhibition, to try and bring us something new. However, the work they are putting out isn’t new, it is from their collection. It seems to me an easy way for them to re-display work they have already displayed, rather than trying to find a new exhibition, with a new theme, and new pieces. Maybe I am getting this all wrong, however, this as just me, writing a blog, writing how I see things. Thanks for your comments, it’s good to hear other people’s thought on my writing – good and bad!


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