Manchester Art Gallery

Lockdown Lifesavers

Things to read, watch and play while we’re all #stayinghometosavelives. Take a look at our staff picks of the books, streaming series, games and aimless browsing that’s keeping them sane.

Hannah Williamson, Fine Art Curator

Here’s my curator’s choice and I’m dying to get back to it.
I have dipped into this book before, but I’m going cover-to-cover this time, reading it on the Internet Archive.
I’m talking about Fifty Years of Work Without Wages by Charles Rowley. It’s the autobiography of a true Manchester citizen. As a picture framer, he’s close to artists (the Rossettis, Ford Madox Brown, Frederic Shields) and as City Councillor he’s leading the charge for indoor plumbing for working people. As the founder of the Ancoats Brotherhood he’s bringing people together (he calls it ‘chumming’!) for music and friendship and political discussion. It’s really anecdotal, not a tedious read. We’ve got Rowley’s portrait by Ford Madox Brown in the collection, and one by Rothenstein, but I have to say that he has a lot more umph in the book than the image…


Fiona Corridan, Curator Art & Design

I’ve been a long-time fan of Dezeen – my go to resource for contemporary design, there’s always amazing examples of innovation from international designers creating design solutions to address everyday issues. Here’s a fun and useful life hack you can make easily at home from designer Paul Priestman, who has made a smartphone stand from an egg box to avoid “bad angles” and painful “phone arm” when video calling during the pandemic.

For life after lockdown, Paul Cocksedge has designed a socially distancing picnic rug called Here Comes the Sun, to make sure people maintain two-metre distance while picnicking or sunbathing with friends.

BBC have some brilliant arts content (which they’re going to share with us, but more of that later) and they’re now showing Lee Miller – A Life on the Front Line on iPlayer (until end of May). I was bowled over by her work and her story whilst working on Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism back in 2009 and we were able to show more of her WWII photographs in Vogue 100 in 2016. She was a pioneering photographer and war correspondent who captured deeply affecting images of the liberation of Dachau. The film captures her complicated life, from childhood trauma to glamorous modelling career, to Surrealist muse and ground-breaking photographer. I’d also recommend a visit to her former family home at Farley Farm when it’s safe to do so…

Finally, I’ve been re-reading Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature, a diary of his garden and a meditation on his life. His luscious descriptions of the plants and flowers and his regular walks beachcombing for materials to create his assemblages really transport you to Dungeness. BBC Arts have generously given Manchester Art Gallery access to their archive, so that we can present a selection of programmes that feature or are related to Derek Jarman, so we’ll be uploading programmes as soon as we can.

Modern Nature cover ©Vintage Classics

Derek Jarman, Modern Nature, book cover

Ronan Brindley, Lead for Learning & Engagement

I’m nearly halfway through the recently published The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justince on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive by Phillippe Sands, a professor of Law at UCL and an expert on human rights and international law. On the surface, the book is about the life of Otto Von Wachter, an Austrian Nazi who through diligence and talent, rose to be Governor of Galicia. He became a protege of Himmler and numbered as friends infamous names such as Hans Frank.

The book starts with von Wachter’s death in a hospital bed in Rome in 1949, a hunted though free man. Reading like a thriller, the narrative follows von Wachter, his wife, family and in particular his surviving son, Horst. In his research, Sands spends extensive time with Horst who continues to believe that his father was a good, decent man. In the son’s eyes, von Wachter was part of a criminal system that carried out horrendous acts, but this does not mean that he was bad and evil himself.

But Sands succeeds in lifting this above the old and discredited ‘only obeying orders’ construct, possibly by the fact that he likes Horst, respecting a son’s wish to love and think well of his father, though exasperated by Horst’s failure to recognise his father’s hand in the worst geographical arena of the Holocaust. What is equally astounding is that Sand’s earlier book, East West Street, features his own family who lived in Lemberg, now Lviv in the Ukraine, and were mostly wiped out under von Wachter’s authority.

I’m going back through favourite cook books. I’m tending towards ones with more narrative, books that evoke food rather than bare instructions.

Being around the house most of the day, I’m going back through favourite cook books. I’m tending towards ones with more narrative, books that evoke food rather than bare instructions. Top of the list for me is Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. This is an unusual story about Shopsin and his wife starting off with a grocery store in New York, beginning to sell take out sandwiches and turkey dinners, and then ending up with an unconventional restaurant, which gave him a better chance to meet the rent. For Shopsin, think John MacEnroe eating too much and becoming a chef. Shopsin doesn’t particularly like customers and has a range of unwritten rules designed to kick people out, like no dithering over the menu (despite at one time having over 600 items). But Shopsin knows his food and some of his simple recipes have become family favourites. Though I don’t want to go near his steamed hamburger.

Talking of food, I can’t miss listening to Jay Raynor’s The Kitchen Cabinet, BBC Radio 4 Saturdays 10.30. His panel of experts and phone in questions have easily made the switch to the lockdown situation. The 30 minute show makes me hungry and puts ideas in my mind about what to cook over the weekend. Risotto? A fried breakfast? But for god’s sake, no tinned tomato lurking on the side and ruining the important stuff with its wretched wetness!

And now for a large snack.

Volunteer and Lifelong Learning Manager, Meg Parnell

I’m very bad at having several books on the go at once… at the moment that is no different. I’m currently reading a biography of the artist, Gluck who gave herself a non-gendered name in the 1920s as she was establishing herself as an artist. We’re going to be displaying one of her works in the new introductory gallery later in the year, so it’s good to learn a bit more about her.

She was determined to be a painter despite the family and society pressures on her and this biography uses lots of letters written by her and photographs, so I am getting a real sense of who she was – her dress style (mainly masculine suits), her relationships and her art. She divided her time between periods of solitude in Cornwall and social life in 1920s London.

I am also taking the opportunity to read books that I haven’t got round to and am really getting into Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. There are some exciting political characters and a real sense of place.

The other book on the go is a recommendation from my 11year old son, Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeve. It’s set in a futuristic world where every city is an island powered by its own fuel source. It’s taking me to another world and reminding me of what I love and hate about this one…

I stumbled accross Everything is Connected on iPlayer a couple of weeks ago and got completely absorbed.

I have long loved Gillian Wearing’s work and this film felt like I was immersed in George Eliot and Gillian Wearing’s visual language of working with everyday people, voice and views through windows.

I am a Homeland fan and am very sad it is finishing….and of course, I guess, like many, I am delighted that Villonelle is back in Killing Eve!

Hannah Gluckstein, Lilac and Guelder Rose

Natasha Howes, Senior Curator

I have been rewatching British comedies from 15 years ago. I find it really reassuring to watch things I know I found funny at the time and the characters are all familiar to me. I have revisited The Green Wing and The Thick of It. I had forgotten the madcap and surreal nature of The Green Wing, with the speeded up filming at certain points and ridiculous characters. I have introduced it to my 14 year old son who is also enjoying it. I find The Thick of It brilliant but a bit stressful with all the shouting of Malcolm Tucker and the total policy about-turns the politicians make so I try not to watch that so close to bedtime.

I also got totally obsessed by Normal People, the new 12 part adaption of Sally Rooney’s best selling novel. Like the book, I got totally consumed by it, and binged watched the 30 minute episodes as they were available as a box set on iplayer. It dips in and out over time into the on / off relationship between a young Irish couple and their emotional lives. It is exquisitely filmed and the two lead actors are compelling.

From an art point of view, I can recommend the Contemporary Art Society’s short films about artists in their studios. For the series Friday Dispatch, each week a different artist is interviewed in their home studio, talking about their work and how they are coping with the current crisis.

Loans Assistant, David Carden

Four Last Things
A point ‘n’ click puzzle adventure, mashing together renaissance artworks with Monty Python-esque comedy, as you attempt to seek redemption through sin. It’s very silly, incredibly funny and looks absolutely fantastic. If you’ve ever wanted to jump inside a 16th century painting, raise hell and cause havoc, well now is your chance.
(available for for Windows, Android, and iOS)

See the game trailer here.


Jennifer McKellar, curator: Craft and Design

TV programmes – have been speeding through Stranger Things reliving childhood and wishing it was the 1980’s again as music and fashion was so much better then!

Documentaries – if you can get past the dodgy opening credits I’m on episode 3 of ‘All Mod Cons‘ which is on BBC Iplayer. In Episode 2 you can spot some fantastic furniture from our collection such as the Harry Bertoia Chair (featured in House Proud) and the Carl Jacobs Jason Chair (featured in Nordic Design).

Jacobs Chair

Louise Thompson, Health and Wellbing Manager

My lockdown lifeline has been Seinfeld on All 4. I watch it every night, it’s my little comedy sanctuary after the day is done. I’ve seen them all before so I’m rewatching them and this gives an added comfort for some reason. Smart, funny and the 90s outfits are sight to behold.

Janet Boston, Curator: Craft and Design

I like The Great Pottery Throwdown (All 4) because in the gallery we only ever see the perfect pots that went right, but ceramics is a craft with many variables that can go wrong, and in this show you get to appreciate the ever present element of unpredictability – things can, and do, go awry, even for experienced makers. Equally, the participants are challenged to try new things, and sometimes find talents that they didn’t know that they had. It’s also worth looking at this list of ‘Compulsive Viewing – 9 Must-See Craft TV Shows‘ from the Crafts Council.


Patrick Kelleher, Visitor Services Team.

Patrick’s first choice, Asunder by Chloe Aridjis, looks at life as a Gallery Assistant and also involves suffragette attacks on art, of the kind that happened at Manchester Art Gallery on April 3rd, 1913.

Marie’s job as a museum guard at the National Gallery in London offers her the life she always wanted, one of invisibility and quiet contemplation. But amid the hushed corridors surge currents of history and violence, paintings whose power belie their own fragility.

Check out the remaining nine novel recommendations from Patrick on the MAGnet blog.

Image © Vintage Books

Asunder by Chloe Aridjis, Image © Vintage Books


Martin Grimes, Web Manager

Currently 5 episodes into Giri / Haji on BBC iPlayer. From the off this stylish and oddly haunting tale of a Tokyo detective Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira) searching for his missing brother in a brash and violent London underworld had me gripped. ‘Stylish art violence’ in the opinion of one reviewer on imdb. Also, have been attempting to make sourdough bread – when I can get hold of flour – by following the easy going and confidence-inspiring guidance of Patrick Ryan on YouTube. I love the way he talks about and handles the dough, like it’s a delicate living thing, which I suppose it is in a way. And, for a totally mindless, but frustrating challenge, have been trying to draw a perfect circle.

Janet Boston, Curator Craft and Design

John Naish: Enough

This witty and self deprecating book is classified under philosophy, non-fiction, sociology, self help and environment. As a professional hoarder, sorry curator, aspiring minimalist and self improvement junkie who is frustrated by successive government’s failures to address climate change this ticked all my boxes for an interesting read. Hooked!  Especially as the author exposes the many aspects of excess in all its forms in just 289 pages.  Enough indeed.

The book is structured as a series of  short essays investigating the problems of excess in all the forms that bedevil 21st century life: information, food, stuff, work, options, the pursuit of happiness, and economic growth. Naish weaves insights from academics in the fields of neuroscience, ancient history, sociology and even Oscar Wilde in thoughtful and entertaining text. It is an entertaining read that engages with weighty issues with a light touch. Meditations on the damage that rampant capitalism has wought are interwoven with tips for dealing with your spiralling lockdown biscuit habit, information overload AND existential angst.

It was written in 2008, just before the credit crunch, but the issues raised are just as pertinent now, and because its not a hot-off-the- press read, its a lockdown bargain. Probably my favourite read so far this year.

Image © Hodder

John Naish, Enough: Breaking Free from the World of Excess. Image courtesy Hodder

Finally, if you have any recommendations for #LockdownLifesavers, please let us know and we’ll include them here.

Stay well, take care and hang in.