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Fair News

15 Oct 2018

Manchester Art Fair, review: a vibrant part of the art world’s ecology

Polly Checkland
Aviva Investors Manchester Art Fair
Manchester Central
★★★★

Originally published in iNews on 15 October 2018

Earlier this year, Manchester’s Buy Art Fair was renamed, without fuss, as Manchester Art Fair. Other things have also changed: the most prestigious art fair in the North has gained a sponsor – and has moved to the main hall at Manchester Central.

The revised name is what the fair’s CEO Thom Hetherington calls “transparent branding”, though given the clarity of the previous, purchase-oriented logo, the move is really more to reflect the rainy city’s thriving cultural status. This is Manchester, we sell art differently here. Which, as the 2018 fair has set out to prove, is true.

The Manchester Contemporary also has a refreshed feel, with three-quarters of those exhibiting having never before attended the fair

Setting the fair apart is its inclusion of individual artists alongside galleries – and, this year, its commitment to representing artists who face challenges to breaking into the mainstream art world. Alongside famous names are under-represented artists from diverse walks of life.

Newly curated by Nathaniel Pitt, founder of Division of Labour gallery, sister event The Manchester Contemporary also has a refreshed feel, with three-quarters of those exhibiting having never before attended the fair.

This shift in focus at what is the largest art fair outside of London goes broadly undeclared, and rightly so. Organisations such as award-winning arts charity Outside In are keen that visitors take the work at face value: artist Aradne’s intricate, haunting ‘drawings in stitch’, created using machine embroidery, are presented no differently to any of the other pieces in the show.

Venture Arts, representing learning disabled artists from the North of England, has collaborated with Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery, showing a mix of pieces from each gallery without distinction.

Heart & Sold is presenting work by artists including Tazia Fawley, one of whose paintings was accepted for Prince George’s nursery – and who just happens to have Down syndrome. At Bethlem Gallery are beautiful ceramic totems by artist Sue Morgan, a former corporate tax lawyer with a doctorate in German Philosophy who retired due to schizophrenic illness.

Evolution is in Manchester Art Fair’s blood – the Grade-II listed building that the fair now calls home was once a city railway station. This year sees a stand-out mix of work, including Elizabeth Stewart’s evocative textile work at Arusha Gallery and abstract paintings by Deanna Lewis based on the finger-marks left on touchscreens at Bearspace.

It is this continual adaptation that means the fair continues to be a genuine counterweight to London – and a real part of the art world ecology outside the capital.

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