Art in Liverpool and Manchester: May 2016

Preview by Sacha Waldron | 04 May 2016

So many exhibitions, so little time... Here's our Art editor's selection of the most interesting new exhibitions in Liverpool, Manchester and beyond this May. Contains Bacon, biennials and buildings. All the Bs. 

Could it be? Is that summer gently rapping, tapping at our chamber door? It would seem so, judging by the amount of flesh on view these last few weeks across the region. We seem to have gone very rapidly from two jackets and a scarf to flip-flops and exposed midriffs. Moving swiftly on... 

Liverpool Biennial approaches...

All art chatter seems to be about whether you went up to Glasgow International and what’s coming up for the Liverpool Biennial, which opens on 9 July.

A lot of the artists on the Biennial menu are unfamiliar (to me at least), which is exciting, but you will see some familiar UK faces including Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Lucy Beech and Birkenhead’s own Mark Leckey.

The full programme was announced last week and is to be split into six 'episodes', with 42 artists from 15 countries exhibiting existing work and new commissions. For the lowdown, read our report from the programme launch (including personal highlights selected by festival director Sally Tallant).

There is also still time to have your show or project as part of the Biennial Fringe (deadline 6 May). Head to the Biennial website for more details on that.

[Marvin Gaye Chetwynd - Jesus and Barabbas puppet show (9 October 2014). Chetwynd will exhibit at Liverpool Biennial 2016. Image courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London]

New exhibitions in Liverpool

On 18 May, Tate Liverpool open a large retrospective of Francis Bacon and the first UK retrospective of Austrian painter Maria Lassnig.

If you are around on 7 May, Tate artistic director Francesco Manacorda will be leading a tour of their new(ish) permanent display, Constellations, which draws together works from the Tate collections and is often easy to overlook when you are visiting for a particular show. 

New work by Hayley Tompkins at Touchstones Rochdale

A new exhibition at Touchstones Rochdale celebrates the rather grating subject of 'women artists' from 1861-2015 and, more encouragingly, commemorates the gallery's history of collecting art by women. Alongside work from bigger names such as Gillian Ayres and Cornelia Parker, the show will include newly acquired work from Hayley Tompkins. It will be interesting to see how Touchstones tackle the very broad subject matter, but it is good to see important sections of their collection – and story as a gallery/museum – come to light.

Aside from the historical narratives, Touchstones will also be examining the challenges and limitations faced by women working in the art world today, including mention of recent initiatives such as those from the Contemporary Art Society.

The exhibition runs for a year and will apparently keep being changed and re-hung. It would be so great, and seems important, if over this year Touchstones could make their research and collection interests more visible online. Harness an enthusiastic member of staff and start a Touchstones blog at the very least...?

[Hayley Tompkins - Digital Light Pool (Stone) (2013); installation view, ‘Scotland + Venice 2013: Sworn / Campbell / Tompkins’. Image courtesy the artist, Andrew Kreps, New York and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster, Glasgow]

New exhibitions in Manchester

Castlefield Gallery opens a new Launch Pad exhibition on 6 May called THE POWERHOUSE LIBERATION MOVEMENT, which includes Manchester Left Writers (Natalie Bradbury, Bob Dickinson, Steve Hanson and David Wilkinson) and selected submissions from the Castlefield Associates members. It’s all about what could be seen as 'free' spaces in the city – how might we identify them? Are their qualities just symbolic or are they real and practical? This obviously also has particular relevance to Manchester with the issues of rising homelessness in the city.

Head to the public opening launch night on 5 May (5pm) as there will be performances of poetry from Manchester Left Writers to accompany the work in the show and, rather amusingly, the quintet Vocal Harum will perform a collection of a cappella songs about buildings.

The performance will be repeated on 12 May as part of Manchester After Hours (7.30-9pm). 

Briefly noted: Art in Leeds, Preston, Sheffield, Birmingham and the Lake District! 

There's so much more going on that there isn't space to detail, but make sure you check out: 

- The Super Slow Way project, which launched in April and explores the creative possibilities of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

- The last month of Nathanial Mellors at the Harris Museum, Preston (ends 4 Jun).

- Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art celebrating its 30th birthday with an exhibition by Lee Mingwei (ends 29 May).

And, if you’re up for a jolly: the citywide art festival Art Sheffield (ends 8 May); the Lake District's contemporary art programme Lakes Ignite (until 22 May); or the two excellent exhibitions currently on in Birmingham, Dan Flavin at IKON (until 26 Jun) and Prem Sahib at Grand Union (until 3 Jun). Get out there and explore.

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