Exploring Art in Greater Manchester: Bury Art Museum

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.

By Manchester's Finest | 20 March 2018

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If you’re anything like me, 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.

A few weeks back we had a look at Gallery Oldham, and next up we are going to shine a spotlight over Bury Art Museum which is a hidden gem, and only a short trip away from the city centre. Bury Art Gallery opened in 1901 as a purpose-built venue to house and display a collection of Victorian oil paintings, watercolours, etchings, drawings, sculpture and Wedgwood plaques formed by a local paper manufacturer, Thomas Wrigley.

Over the last century, Bury’s art collection has developed its outstanding collection and still showcases 19th-century British art. Since 2000 the Gallery has also embarked on an ambitious programme of contemporary art. The building is now a grade II listed building and regarded as the most attractive in the town.

Through its international temporary exhibition programme, Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre is developing a reputation as a leading player in showing contemporary art in the North West of England as well as partner countries abroad. These exhibitions are displayed in Bury giving the local community opportunities to see progressive works of art challenging and furthering the field, in their local area.

The most famous work of art in the permanent collection at Bury Art Museum would be ‘Calais Sands at Low Water: Poissards Collecting Bait’ by JMW Turner (1775-1851) which was shown at the Royal Academy in 1830.  At one level the picture is a view of Calais with enough recognisable elements in it to establish the location.  At another level, it is a scene from everyday life with fisherwomen busy gathering bait on the beach in order to bait the lines for the next day’s fishing.

However, both of these theories are insignificant in comparison to the real subject, which is the spectacular sunset that dominates about half of the picture surface and illuminates the limitless expanse of sand, water and sky, creating extended shimmering reflections and subtle blends of colour.  An ordinary scene is translated into momentary luminosity and made unforgettable.

In the three contemporary spaces at Bury Art Museum, there is a selection of changing exhibitions throughout the year. At the moment there is ‘Happy’- a year of happy events in Burry inspired by the life and work of Victoria Wood featuring historic artworks that aim to make you happy, question what makes you happy and what happiness actually is. The exhibition includes a maquette of the Victoria Wood statue that is set to be installed later this year.

Hidden Mothers by Michele Selway kicked off this February which is a fantastic show. In the 19th century, as photography gained popularity, early photographers were faced with the challenge of how to keep a small child still.Some photographers used the unsubtle technique of hiding the mother, perhaps under a sheet or behind a curtain, to hold the child still. These images have become known as “Hidden Mothers”.

Michele Selway has recreated a series of Hidden Mother Portraits, however this time, rather than being ‘hidden’ she boldly exposes these mothers and their experiences of being mothers, using the same wet plate collodion processes of the early photographers.

Finally, another exhibition that is currently on at Bury Art Gallery is ‘Contemplations of the Home Front’ which is on until the end of May. This show includes work by artists, academics, researchers and students from the Manchester universities. This exhibition focuses on contemplations of family life during a period of war, the artists working across a range of media create interventions into the Museum’s First World War Display.

It is important to note that Bury Art Museum also offers a range of classes, workshops and interactive exhibits such as music performances, live drawing classes and lots and lots of opportunities to drink wine. There is such a fantastic community atmosphere here, and it is safe to say that is it one of Greater Manchester’s best-kept secrets for any art lover- and I urge you to pay her a visit soon.

Bury Art Gallery, Moss St, Bury BL9 0DR
0161 253 5878