Exploring Art in Greater Manchester: Gallery Oldham

So you've been to the trinity of art galleries that Manchester City Centre has to offer, but while we wait for the exhibitions to change we can often struggle to get our art-fix.

The thing is, if you’re anything like me (who is from somewhere else but lived here for a number of years), you may not venture outside the M60 and into Greater Manchester very often. But there is so much out there for us to explore, including some fabulous art galleries, which are just a short tram, train or bus ride away.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to spotlight a couple of these art venues that are a little further afield.

First up is Gallery Oldham. Its form we know today was opened in 2002, but it is just the latest incarnation of Oldham Museum & Art Gallery which is considerably older. The original building opened back in 1883 and is currently being redeveloped thanks to the help and funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Once redevelopment has finished, Gallery Oldham is set to become an official Heritage and Arts Centre. Although the functioning gallery space is modern, it is still connected to the historic building by a glass bridge.

The gallery has been building its collection slowly since it opened in 1883, and so it is relatively diverse with a combination of fine art, artefacts of social significance, books and natural history. The curators have done an outstanding job in collating all this different material in their permanent display in the ‘Oldham Stories’ gallery which brings these collections together to tell a tale about the town and its visual history.

One of the most popular works can be found in this gallery and acts as an excellent example of how the curators have kept Oldham at the centre of this exhibition. The Adoration of the Chip is a small fabric banner which marks one of the town’s claims to fame as being the first place where fish and chips were sold.

It turns out we have a lot to thank Oldham for, can you imagine how dull a Friday night would be without a chippy tea? The piece was made by banner maker Ed Hall as part of Jeremy Deller’s Procession that featured in the 2009 Manchester International Festival and proves very popular among visitors.

Gallery Oldham also boasts a series of changing exhibitions. The programme is active with at least eight primary shows per year and even more in their community gallery for local artists. Right now, they have a show called DIS/rupt which focuses on textiles, but it is all about to change when March comes along.

Next month will see a Natural History display and an exhibition which explores all things paper with inclusions of artists such as Roger Ackling, Cornelia Parker, Time Davies and Simon Periton. Later in the year, they are hosting Artist Rooms with British Sculptor Richard Long in association with Tate.

For a small art venue, Gallery Oldham does host some notable works of art. Most famous would be Circe by Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse (1891). This depicts the scantily clad Greek enchantress Circe offering a cup, (probably a potion or poison) to an unknowing victim who stands beyond the frame. This work is not actually on display, but instead is in the stores- so I hope they will find an excuse to get her out soon.

All in all, Gallery Oldham is a fantastic little art space with much to offer and is well worth a visit on a rainy afternoon.

Gallery Oldham, Oldham Cultural Quarter, Greaves St, Oldham OL1 1AL
0161 770 4653
www.galleryoldham.org.uk

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