Castlefield Gallery at 40

Castlefield Gallery at 40. Jeffrey Knopf, ‘A Show of Hands’, glass and 3D printed plastic, 2022. Courtesy of the artist
Jeffrey Knopf, ‘A Show of Hands’, glass and 3D printed plastic, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

Next year, Castlefield Gallery will celebrate its 40th anniversary and is looking to its past in order to think about the present, and what the future might hold.

When Castlefield Gallery opened in 1984, it was the first dedicated contemporary art space in Manchester and only the second in the UK outside of London. The gallery was founded by MASA (Manchester Artists Studio Association): a group of former Manchester Polytechnic students who felt they weren’t seeing the artists they wanted to in Manchester and decided to change that. They were also keen to support artists based in the North West region. For the last 39 years, we have been working with both artists based in the region and from the wider world in order to explore what it means to make the art of our time.

The first articles written about the gallery acknowledge that contemporary art spaces can be daunting places to visit, but that knowledgeable, welcoming staff and a programme of talks and workshops could combat that. Today, we deliver a mixture of in-person and online events, exhibitions and resources that offer audiences different ways to engage with what we do – and whenever you visit us you will still be greeted by someone more than happy to talk about what we have on. In an article for The Artful Reporter curator Jill Morgan praised Sheila Seal (the first person to take on the role of ‘Gallery Organiser’) and other MASA members for having a work ethic that went against ‘…the romantic popular view of the artist as an isolated genius or a privileged amateur dabbler’ (April, 1984). A sentiment still close to our hearts today. We believe the gallery is a place where people can come to experience the world differently, not escape from it.

Castlefield Gallery at 40. Flyer for the Gary Wragg exhibition at Castlefield Gallery, 1984
Flyer for the Gary Wragg exhibition at Castlefield Gallery, 1984

Our ambition also continues to be for Manchester to be a place where artists can live and work and have international careers. This sees us working closely with artists, often over long periods of time to support the development of their practice. This autumn, the gallery will be taken over by new sculptures, built in situ, by Omid Asadi (Oct 15 2023 – Jan 21 2024), inspired by the struggle to find a sense of belonging in a fast-changing world where his former family homes have been lost to both war and so-called development. Asadi is an artist we have worked with over several years, initially as a Manchester School of Art Mentee then through group exhibitions, events, academic research projects and art fairs, leading to this – his first major UK solo show.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the gallery’s first exhibition (John Hoyland, Recent Paintings, March – April, 1984) we are excited to be welcoming back some of the large-scale abstract paintings that exemplify the works shown in that first year of the gallery programme. Including works by John Hoyland, Sarah Feinmann, Tricia Gillman and Gary Wragg, which will be shown alongside later works by those artists and four more painters who we have gotten to know more recently: Robin Megannity, Azraa Motala, Jamie Kirk and Katie Tomlinson. Whether you are a committed painting enthusiast or simply curious about what painting can do, this exhibition will deliver a rich dialogue around the past, present and future of painting. This dialogue also has wider implications for thinking about individual expression, the power of imagery and the politics of representation.

The artful reporter, April 1984. Castlefield Gallery at 40.
Castlefield Gallery in The Artful Reporter, April 1984

In the summer of next year, we will have a group show of work by Jeffrey Knopf (a former Salford Scholar: a graduate mentee scheme we run with the University of Salford), Theo Simpson and Hope Strickland (Jul – Sep 2024). A sculptor, a photographer and a filmmaker who are committed to their respective disciplines but also keen to work with them in expanded and none traditional ways. With 3D-printed manipulated scans of ancient artefacts, materials that relate to the history of the British economy and landscape, archival footage and historic documentation these artists investigate our deep and complex relationships with the past, present and future. The exhibition will be an opportunity for us to acknowledge that history isn’t the same for everyone; that amongst the artists we work with and the people that visit us, the past is felt and experienced differently.

Also in those first articles written about the gallery, there is repeated mention of the difficult political and financial context of the 1980s, which sounds disappointingly similar to the current situation.

In February next year, Rowland Hill will transform the gallery into an immersive nightclub-esque installation. Among other things this solo exhibition will reference Hill’s love of 90’s Euphoria and the strange sense of melancholy she finds, particularly in the lyrics, of that music genre. A sense of melancholy perhaps intensified by the hindsight of the intervening years. I remember the popular feeling in the 90s that we had arrived, that a much better more equal world was just around the corner. Whether deeply personal, overtly political or focused on more material artistic development it is thanks to the artists I have worked with at Castlefield Gallery that I can no longer see that 90s belief without recognising the privilege and naivety that was part of it. However, if we are to get out of the political feedback loop of the present, we will need to rekindle some of that 90s spirit and the spirit MASA had a decade before, all be it informed by multiple other pasts and presents. Perhaps as we look back over the last 40 years, Castlefield Gallery and the work of those mentioned above is also a good place to start bringing about the future.

Matthew Pendergast
Curator and Deputy Director

Omid Asadi
Castlefield Gallery | Until 21 January 2024

The first major UK solo exhibition by Omid Asad features new large-scale sculptural work exploring loss, memory and belonging.

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Castlefield Gallery

An innovative contemporary art gallery committed to supporting artists’ careers and talent development across Greater Manchester, the North West and beyond.

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This article was originally published in the new Oxford Road Corridor zine. The autumn edition is available to pick up for free from spaces around Oxford Road. You can view it online here too.

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