Pure Beauty: The Pleasures of Abstract Art, the Grosvenor Museum, Chester
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 December 2013
A partnership between the Grosvenor Museum and the University of Chester aims to bring avant-garde art to a wider audience
A new exhibition showcasing the best of British modern art is now on display at the Grosvenor Museum in Chester.
Pure Beauty: The Pleasures of Abstract Art marks a radical new departure for the Victorian museum, which is more renowned for its archaeological collections and traditional portraits and landscapes.
A partnership between the Grosvenor Museum and the University of Chester, the exhibition’s aim is to bring less immediately accessible paintings to a bigger audience.
The 18 modern paintings on show were selected by Professor Neil Grant, the University’s Head of Art and Design. Professor Grant joined the University as Head of Department of Art and Design in June 2010 after many years as a mover and shaker on the Manchester art scene.
Born and raised in Ireland, he came to England in the mid-1970’s to study painting at the Manchester School of Art. He established the groundbreaking Castlefield Gallery and became director of the Holden Gallery at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he progressed from Senior lecturer in Communication Design to Head of Department of Design.
Himself a distinguished artist, represented in art collections nationally and internationally. Professor Grant is now in charge of a department with 300 students and 15 academic staff. He also manages Contemporary Art Space Chester, a new gallery on the university’s Kingsway site. And he is hoping to win over a whole new audience for more avant-garde work.
He says: ‘The Grosvenor Museum has always tended to favour traditional representational art and in that 19th century setting the public has tended not to react favourably to abstract art. However, in putting together the exhibition in a more traditional space we thought it could replicate the shock and the excitement of the work when it was first shown.
‘The exhibition examines some of the ways artists have developed a form of art that does not rely on storytelling, but encourages the viewer to make a leap of faith and engage in a different kind of way with colours and textures.
‘With abstract art, you don’t just look at a painting; you have to feel your way into it. It’s like having a conversation with the artist with a vocabulary made up of shapes and colours and looking at how they relate to each other.’
The exhibition includes work by several distinguished British artists, including Ivor Hitchens, Patrick Heron, Eduardo Paolozzi, Cornelia Parker and Ian Davenport
And despite the museum’s traditional reputation, its Keeper of Art Paul Boughton is also very much a champion of the abstract. Since 1993, he has been building up a collection of modern art works from scratch.
‘The world has had abstract art for over a century but the average person in the street still finds it difficult to understand. I see it as an educational exhibition and you don’t need to know anything about abstract art to enjoy it.
‘When it comes to art most people expect to see something that looks like a photograph. As this exhibition shows, art can do a lot of other things and I am delighted that we have been able to build such a strong and interesting collection here in Chester.’
While most of the paintings are from the Museum’s own collection,four have been donated by the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, Birkenhead,
There are also accompanying events to boost the exhibition including a lecture on December 4 by Dr Tom McGuirk, Senior Lecturer in Art Theory at the University of Chester.
On January 15 Professor Grant will conduct a tour of the exhibition for visitors who want to find out more about the works on show
For him, the exhibition is also a chance to broaden the scope of Chester’s cultural life and bring the University to the forefront of its development.
‘What I’m trying to do is make sure we contribute as much as we can to the life of the city, engage as many people as possible and expand the city’s cultural offering. We know there is still a substantial public out there that have not bought into the practice of abstract art but this is a real opportunity which we think is very exciting.’