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UAL Research Online

Free Trade

Cummings, Neil and Lewandowska, Marysia (2002) Free Trade. [Show/Exhibition]

Type of Research: Show/Exhibition
Creators: Cummings, Neil and Lewandowska, Marysia

Marysia Lewandowska and Neil Cummings were commissioned (alongside Michael Craig-Martin) to make a new work for the re-launch of the Manchester Art Gallery. After a year of research amidst the collection, its storage and archive, we identified in the Beatson Blair Bequest a beautiful example of the entanglement of art and financial capital in Manchester, as well as a device with which to explore the history and conventions of the Manchester Art Gallery itself.

George Beatson Blair was one of three brothers -James, Alexander, and George- who were all partners in a cotton import/export and shipping company. And like other newly wealthy middle class merchants, James and George turned their financial profits into cultural goods.

On George’s death, the executors of the estate estimated the collection to consist of around 30,000 artefacts, of which 5,000 were paintings. The collection filled the five entertaining rooms, twenty bedrooms, offices for staff, bathrooms, attics, halls, landings, staircases, workshops and even the pig-sty’s of the brothers house in Whalley Range. Each room was overflowing. An inventory of 4894 objects exists in the gallery archive, of which around 458 objects were eventually accessioned by the Manchester Gallery.

We produced an exhibition: for the first time ever, the remains of the 30,000 objects of the 1901 Beatson Blair Bequest – all the paintings, sculpture, fine furniture, ceramics, silver, and bric-a-brac – were brought together into one room. The extraordinary installation piled into the centre of the gallery challenged the conventions of museum classification and display. These precious objects are not sorted into type, period or manufacturer; the rhetoric of the museum classification, nor are they isolated in vitrines for distant aesthetic connoisseurship. Displayed as if in transit, the objects are momentarily arrested, on route elsewhere - from store to exhibition? The installation hints at the chaotic interior of Blair's house, and the huge quantity of all manner of goods that moved continually through Manchester.

Before objects become part of Gallery or Museum collections they participate in circuits of exchange. In this instance bought by the Blairs at auction and from dealers in Manchester; and in an inversion of conventional gallery labeling, each object from the Bequest carries the one piece of information that visitors are most curious about, its 1941 price. These artworks, as well as being objects of trade, were also purchased from the profit of trade.

The exhibition was one part of a discursive network that comprised the project, including archival film programmes, guided walks and restaged historic public lectures previously delivered in Manchester by John Ruskin (1857) and William Morris (1883) that explored a political economy for art. The lectures and rare archival material are reprinted in the catalogue.

Official Website: http://www.chanceprojects.com/node/101
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > Chelsea College of Arts
Date: 25 May 2002
Related Websites: http://www.chanceprojects.com/node/101
Related Websites:
Related Publications: Exhibition catalogue: ISBN 0-901673-61-7
Event Location: Manchester Art Gallery
Locations / Venues:
LocationFrom DateTo Date
Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, U.K.25 May 200223 February 2003
Date Deposited: 07 Dec 2009 12:48
Last Modified: 02 Sep 2010 15:09
Item ID: 846
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/846

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