Out of the Crate

November 7, 2019  -  December 31, 2025

Free Admission

Investigating the Sculpture Collection at Manchester Art Gallery.

Come and look behind the scenes of Manchester’s publicly owned sculpture collection. Part exhibition, part research space, Out of the Crate delves into the un-tapped history of the collection. This is an opportunity to investigate sculpture through access to stored collections and archival material. Find out what’s in store and how we look after it, help unlock hidden stories about works we know very little about and explore how artworks might encourage conversation.  

We have about 400 sculptures from antiquity to the present day and, until recently, less than 5% were on display. As well as modern and contemporary works, there are 19th-century sculptures and works from earlier periods that have rarely been seen this century and are under-researched.  

On display are a large range of materials including marble, bronze, wood, glass, ceramic and paper, a variety of sizes and shapes and different techniques of making. From bronze medals decorated with reliefs to large-scale free-standing 3D works, you can now see around 30% of the sculpture collection here. In terms of representation, we should also consider who has and hasn’t been included in the collection. 

Room 1: What’s in Store?

Here around 60 sculptures are presented as if in a gallery store room, giving an insight into what it’s like behind the scenes. Objects are displayed on racks, in cupboards, on pallets and in open crates and grouped as they would be in a store, according to size and/or material and weight, rather than guided by themes or chronology as in a conventional gallery display. This room reveals the challenges of storing and looking after sculpture and gives an overview of the scope and condition of the collection. 

Sculptures in Out of the Crate

Room 2: Cold Cases

This room showcases a changing selection of sculptures under investigation. These are artworks about which we have little information, are in poor condition or have been off display for a long time and would benefit from new research. The aim is to open up this research process more publicly and consider how a public gallery and its users can care for and use collections together. 

Bust of a male head on left hand side of image, in exhibition/ research room, a table is set with books and chairs placed around it

Room 3: It’s Good to Talk

Curated by the Making Conversation group 

Making Conversation is a group of people from all walks of life who take part in monthly workshops with artists and gallery staff. Participants look at art, share and discuss ideas and make something in response. The workshops are open to everyone and are planned with blind and partially sighted people in mind. 

We wanted to find out whether we could promote this level of conversation in a gallery space every day and we’ve selected sculptures to experiment with how a gallery can best be used to make conversation possible. The group also thought about the physical nature of the space itself and how much interpretation we should include. 


Close up detail of head of a gold male sculpture, the light is shining on his face and you can see the reflection on his cheek

The gallery needs more art detectives!

If you like researching art and artists, following clues, resolving mysteries then why not get involved in crowd sourcing knowledge about the gallery’s sculpture collection. We would like help finding out more about the Cold Cases featured in Out of the Crate. We also welcome research on any of the sculptures in the gallery’s collection. You can get involved here.

During lockdown and gallery closure we have made some exciting discoveries about some of the first cold cases featured in Out of the Crate.  We’ll be sharing this information in the gallery over the coming months before displaying and researching a new group of objects.  You can also read about some of the discoveries on the gallery blog here: 

 A Mystery Solved: Peter Clough 1928-91

Unearthing the mysteries of Manchester Art Gallery’s lost sculptures

Silent Witness

Efea Rutlin: The Uncertain Attribution

We’ve produced a series of audio descriptions to accompany the exhibition