What is Manchester Art Gallery?

August 20, 2020  -  December 31, 2024

Free Admission

And what does it mean to you?


In the first of our gallery spaces to be completely transformed since they were first hung in 2002, we are exploring the gallery itself. Manchester Art Gallery cares for a public collection of over 46,000 objects spanning six centuries of fine art, craft and design, costume and more. It has been collected by purchase, gift and bequest since 1827 up to the present day. It is part of Manchester City Council and funded through public and private money. The objects are collectively owned by the people of Manchester.

Manchester Art Gallery has been shaped by people: the public, artists, politicians, curators, staff, collectors, benefactors and visitors. Every object acquires different values, status and meanings over time. Every object and person has stories to tell.

The significance of a public collection is more than the accumulation of individual objects. Its core purpose is to encourage curiosity in everyone and inspire creativity in all aspects of life. Using the collection helps us better understand ourselves and others. The Gallery is part of the collective cultural soul of our city and it holds Manchester’s cultural wealth in trust for future generations.

A group of staff from across the Gallery have delved into the archives to select objects that reflect its origins as the Royal Manchester Institution, its subsequent history and a range of art and design. We have mixed up works from different times, made in a variety of materials by artists and makers from Manchester and across the world.

Breathing is Free: 12,756.3

This film is part of a work produced by the Japanese/Vietnamese/American artist Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba. The other element of this work, a photographic print Manchester Ferns, is on display in What is Manchester Art Gallery? In 2007 the artist Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba began a mammoth project entitled Breathing is Free: 12,756.3, when his intention was to undertake a series of runs in different countries around the world that would build up to 12,756.3 km, the diameter of the earth. The project was designed to highlight the plight of refugees and displaced people – those who, in his words, must “run or perish.” Jun asked the question “How come when breathing is free for everyone else, we (refugees) must go on the run to grab some air?”

Jun came to Manchester in December 2007 and planned a 92.6 km run around the North and East of the city, taking in busy streets, semi-industrial areas and criss-crossing the canals. He planned a route via GPS which would create a fern shape when plotted onto an aerial map and documented his run on film. He chooses different flora and fauna for each place he runs, for example a cherry blossom ‘route’ was developed in Tokyo. He chose the fern for Manchester as he saw a connection between the plant’s vascular system, that transports water, sugar and nutrients around to help the plant grow, and the growth of our city socially and economically around the infrastructure of canals during the industrial revolution.

The film and print capture a specific moment in the history of the city as investment and development activity was building momentum to expand the city further eastward. Many of the places captured in the film and print may look very different today.

Fiona Corridan | Curator: Art and Design

What is the point of a public art gallery?

We have been asking ourselves the questions below about the gallery, we don’t know all the answers and we invite you to think about them too.

What is Manchester Art Gallery?

How and why did it begin?

What is the point of a public art gallery?

What are all the objects and how did they get here?

Where did and does the money come from?

What relates to Manchester and its people?

How do we decide what to collect?

What can we do with it now?

Art Unlocked: Art UK and Manchester Art Gallery