Quay House, Spinningfields
North West England

The Manchester Contemporary 2011, now in its third year, is an art-fair forum for the development of both the market and the critical context for contemporary art in the region. Curatorially co-ordinated by Manchester based project group and exhibition space International 3 (also representing their gallery artists work at the fair) it invites a selection of nine commercial galleries to exhibit their wares. Only looking details up afterwards did I realise how new the galleries actually were, the longest running space is International 3 themselves who have been around since 2004. The programme also includes a Print Room which showed a large selection of works both by exhibiting gallery artists and invited organisations including Trace at Manchester Metropolitan University and The Hepworth, Wakefield and a talks and tours programme.

The most interesting selection of work came from Bristol’s works/projects with highlights such as Melanie Counsell’s half transparent colourful bum-like shapes sitting on graph paper and Richard Woods printed floorboard sculpture-sticks adorned with lights. A wooden off-cut party. Tucked around a corner of the display and almost missable is a collage by Richard Wilson, a chaotic chopped-up re-imagining of the façade of the De La War pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea. The collage also points to the future Woods De La War commission that will see the get-away bus from The Italian Job teeter precariously on the edge of the cliff directly in front of the modernist sea-side building. Seeming like a kind of Structuralist cinematic still it seemed to speak to graphic Metropolis style work of artist showing opposite him from Bureau Gallery, Daniel Fogerty.

Cardiff-based Mermaid and Monster exhibited a very comprehensive selection of artists, the most of any other gallery in the fair. This, and the fact that many of the works were small scale and numerous made it quite difficult to look at anything in depth and could have done with being more sparingly curated. I felt like the galleries that selected one or only a few artists, such as Ceri Hand’s solo presentation of Samantha Donnelly, would seduce any potential buyers far more successfully. I did however enjoy Helen Sears photographs of heads partially hidden from view by a variety of ceramic birds and Nicholas Dietrich Williams showing a curious painting based on images from both Breugal and Matisse although seeming though through the colour and figuration to also be about reminiscence on 1970’s hair rock bands.

A new discovery for me was Arcade Gallery, based in London. Anna Barhams clicking slideshow of extra terrestrial flowers was projected in the space alongside some Caroline Achaintre ceramic mask-like shapes paired with drawings. Arranged in a diagonal they managed to look simultaneously, perhaps because of the season, like melted Halloween masks crossed with some very ancient dug-up objects and the 1950’s decorative flying duck formations found in your hallway or kitchen.

There was a good general level of quality in the work on display at Manchester Contemporary. It would be interesting to know how much work was sold over the three days but I get the feeling this is not the central point for galleries to be involved. More so to increase visibility in different regions and to also provide better network of support for and between the smaller commercial galleries functioning outside London. The Print Room was a clever inclusion into the mix. More affordable prints by some of the artists on display meant that someone like me, who does not buy art but just might given an extra couple of pounds a year, had something that was within my grasp. New collectors are just as important as the old ones.