Manchester Art Gallery’s latest Exhibition – that’s in the Gift Shop!

"Exit through the gift shop."

The hugely successful 2021 Grayson’s Art Club at Manchester Art Gallery – echoing Grayson Perry’s Channel 4 series – has spun off a show at the Gallery’s gift shop.

There, 20 craft makers – mostly from the North West – have been challenged to make original gift art for under £22. Hence the show title 20/22.

Reflecting Perry’s mantra that art is ‘for and by everyone’ is always to be seen in the Manchester Art Gallery gift shop. And the much-maligned and amusing phrase ‘Exit through the gift shop’ is a must rather than a necessity to encourage browsing and purchases.

The phrase ‘Exit through the gift shop’ was (is) the title of a fairly unfathomable Banksy film from 2010. The main premise (I think) is that only non-commercial and expendable street art is pure. When Banksy was asked if the film was a documentary or a mockumentary he replied, “Yes.” So we’ll never know.

But it’s true to say that whenever I visit Manchester Art Gallery, which is pretty much weekly, I do make a point of browsing the gift shop, because it has interesting, creative stuff. I have no idea who chooses the merchandise, but it does have a consistent quality and isn’t just – although there are many – art books or catalogues.

Of course, the Gift Shop isn’t visible from the street and it does surprise me that a lot of people don’t know that it’s there. You don’t have to be an art lover visiting one of the Gallery’s many high-quality exhibitions or the permanent collections, you can just go in and shop.

One of the attractions, to me at least, is that it’s not overtly commercial – although profits help to fund the gallery and its activities – and so the space is open, airy and gallery-like. Not stacked high and sold cheap. Good for relaxed browsing.

The Gallery wanted to ‘increase the desire to surround ourselves with beautiful things,’ compelled by a huge surge in home-based crafts during lockdown and encouraged by Perry. And so the 20/22 makers have produced a range of ceramics, glass, jewellery, paper, textiles, mixed media, sculpture and woodwork. Original and sometimes quirky creations, each for 22 quid or less.

So rather than exiting through the gift shop, it’s worth entering the gift shop specifically to do just that – shop. The 20/22 range is available until July 24th, the Manchester Art Gallery gift shop is open all year round.

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What’s On at Manchester Art Gallery

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