A Postcard from the North West

29 July 2016 By

Smithy Bridge, Littleborough, Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and Batley.  At the end of a two day visit to the North West we trundled along the Calder Valley to Leeds.  After the weeks of rain in early summer, the sun is suddenly hot, and the verges covered in buddleia, ragged robin and rosebay willowherb.

Taking advantage of high summer we have been visiting some further flung Contemporary Art Society Museum Members.  Tullie House in Carlisle was the furthest north, originally the grand townhouse home of the Tullie family, it was established as a museum in the late 19th century.  Blackpool was next stop, and The Grundy Art Gallery.

The first three galleries are devoted to a solo show by London-based artist Mark Leckey.  In reverse chronological order, the work you first encounter is the Kolossal Kat – a giant inflated Felix the Cat that slumps across the space,  comically embracing the ornate, Victorian cast iron radiator, like a drunk clinging to a lamp post.  Bracketing the exhibition in the furthest space is Leckey’s breakthrough work from 1999, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore. Collaged together from footage of northern soul clubs it was, and remains, a hugely influential work.  In between is a group of works, including one of the Arts Council Collections’ new commissions, all relating to the artist’s near-obsession with Felix the Cat as a virtual avatar.  The first time Leckey has made a show on this single theme, it’s great to see such an important exhibition in sunny Blackpool.

Bury Art Gallery has recently taken over the ground floor space of their Victorian Building and created a centre for sculpture.  Formerly the library, the rooms are lofty and bright, with windows on three sides.  Last Things is a collaboration between Australian artist Jayne Dyer and British artist Wayne Warren.  The title of the show comes from Paul Auster’s dystopian 1987 novel In the Country of Last Things. A novel in the form of letters, this exhibition echoes the form by placing the artists works in dialogue with each other:  Warren’s elegant blue neon abstracts are suspended on one side of the space, while on the other side Dyer’s curious pale sculptures sit arranged on a table like so many natural history specimens from creatures either long extinct or yet to evolve.

Touchstones Rochdale is another art gallery above a library.  In the 19th century there was public money available for building libraries, for public improvement, and it was therefore relatively cost effective to put a gallery above.  With no extraneous architectural quirks, the galleries present beautifully proportioned, top lit spaces with lovely honey-coloured parquet floors.  Thanks to the new senior curator at Rochdale, Mark Doyle, London-based collector Valeria Napoleone will be showing a portion of her collection at the gallery in December, following on from her current exhibition in Sheffield.  Well known for supporting only female artists, Valeria Napoleone’s collection is preceded by a group show called Tall Tales.  Narrative works by a large group of female artists including Lubaina Himid and Maud Sulter sit alongside more formalist works by Claire Barclay and Hayley Tompkins.  This emphasis on the work of women artists gains urgency as a strategy when one recalls the recent history of abuse of teenage girls in the town.

This is the last Friday Dispatch of the summer.  While the team continues to work feverishly through August on plans for a fantastic autumn season, Dispatches will resume in September.

Caroline Douglas


Grundy Art Gallery, Queen St, Blackpool FY1 1PU. Tuesday – Saturday 10.00-17.00. Exhibition continues until 13 August 2016. www.grundyartgallery.com 

Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre, Moss St, Bury BL9 0DR. Tuesday – Friday 10:00 – 17:00, Saturday 10:00 – 16:30. Exhibition continues until 22 October 2016. www.buryartmuseum.co.uk 

Touchstones Rochdale, The Esplanade, Rochdale OL16 1AQ. Tuesday – Saturday 10.00-17.00. Exhibition continues until 4 March 2017. www.link4life.org