Presenting the female body: Challenging a Victorian fantasy
A barometer of public taste
8 February 2018
Following a fantastic response to its seven day absence – both at the gallery itself and on-line – Waterhouse’s masterpiece Hylas and the Nymphs returned to public display at Manchester Art Gallery over the weekend.
The painting – part of the gallery’s highly prized collection of Pre-Raphaelite works – was temporarily removed from display as part of a project the gallery is working on with the artist Sonia Boyce, in the build-up to a solo exhibition of her work at the gallery opening on 23 March 2018. Boyce’s work is all about bringing people together in different situations to see what happens. The painting’s short term removal from public view was the result of a ‘take-over’ of some of the gallery’s public spaces by a wide range of gallery users and artists on Friday January 26th.
The event was conceived by Boyce to bring different meanings and interpretations of paintings from the gallery’s collection into focus, and into life. The evening included a series of performances, all filmed by Boyce’s team, addressing issues of race, gender, and sexuality, culminating in the careful, temporary removal of the Waterhouse painting. In its place, notices were put up inviting responses to this action that would inform how the painting would be shown and contextualized when it was rehung. In the course of this last week the space where the painting was has become filled with post-it notes from individuals wanting to contribute to the discussion.
Hylas was chosen because the painting has been a barometer of public taste since it was painted in 1896 and continues to be so.
Since its removal, the painting and its temporary absence from the gallery has captured the attention of thousands of people not just in Manchester but everywhere, and in so doing has opened up a wider global debate about representation in art and how works of art are interpreted and displayed.
There has been an incredible response over the last week – it’s encouraging to see that so many people care so much about our historic collection, and about Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs in particular, and we want to thank people for taking the time to respond.
Given the sheer volume and breadth of discussion that has been sparked by the act of removing the painting, the gallery is now planning a series of public and live streamed events to encourage further debate about these wider issues, and is looking forward to welcoming people to these, and hearing what they have to say.
The first of these events will be a chaired panel debate, inviting speakers with a broad spectrum of opinions to discuss the issues raised. More details about this event will be released shortly. To register your interest in attending the debate please contact us here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece back on public display after its temporary removal
3 February 2018
Well, there’s no denying it’s been an interesting week. We anticipated a heated debate but were amazed by the huge response to the temporary removal of Waterhouse’s Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece. As of this morning, following seven days in our art store, this important painting is back on display.
The comments section on this post has received well over 700 posts, we’re working through them and all aside from the merely abusive will be published. Please feel free to continue the debate here, we genuinely value your input.
The full press release is copied below.
Following a fantastic response to its temporary removal – both at the gallery itself and on-line – Waterhouse’s Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece Hylas and the Nymphs will be back on public display at Manchester Art Gallery from tomorrow, Saturday 3 February.
The painting – part of the gallery’s highly prized collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings – was temporarily removed from display as part of a project the gallery is working on with the contemporary artist Sonia Boyce, in the build-up to a solo exhibition of her work at the gallery opening on 23 March 2018.
Boyce’s artwork is all about bringing people together in different situations to see what happens. The painting’s short term removal from public view was the result of a ‘take-over’ of some of the gallery’s public spaces by gallery users and performance artists last Friday January 26th.
Since its filmed removal as part of the Boyce project a week ago, the painting and its temporary absence from the gallery has captured the attention of people everywhere, and in so doing has opened up a wider global debate about representation in art and how works of art are interpreted and displayed.
Given the sheer volume and breadth of discussion that has been sparked by the act of removing the painting, the gallery is now planning a series of public events to encourage further debate about these wider issues.
Amanda Wallace, Interim Director Manchester Art Gallery, said: “We’ve been inundated with responses to our temporary removal of Hylas and the Nymphs as part of the forthcoming Sonia Boyce exhibition, and it’s been amazing to see the depth and range of feelings expressed.
“The painting is rightly acknowledged as one of the highlights of our Pre-Raphaelite collection, and over the years has been enjoyed by millions of visitors to the gallery.
“We were hoping the experiment would stimulate discussion, and it’s fair to say we’ve had that in spades – and not just from local people but from art-lovers around the world.
“Throughout the painting’s seven day absence, it’s been clear that many people feel very strongly about the issues raised, and we now plan to harness this strength of feeling for some further debate on these wider issues.”
We have left a temporary space in Gallery 10 in place of Hylas and the Nymphs by JW Waterhouse to prompt conversation about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection.
How can we talk about the collection in ways which are relevant in the 21st century?
Here are some of the ideas we have been talking about so far. What do you think?
This gallery presents the female body as either a ‘passive decorative form’ or a ‘femme fatale’. Let’s challenge this Victorian fantasy!
The gallery exists in a world full of intertwined issues of gender, race, sexuality and class which affect us all. How could artworks speak in more contemporary, relevant ways?
What other stories could these artworks and their characters tell? What other themes would be interesting to explore in the gallery?
The act of taking down this painting was part of a group gallery takeover that took place during the evening of 26 January 2018. People from the gallery team and people associated with the gallery took part. The takeover was filmed and is part of an exhibition by Sonia Boyce, 23 March to 2 September 2018.
To be continued…
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