Manchester’s Art Gallery, designed in classical style by Charles Barry and opened in 1824, had a substantial extension 12 years ago by Hopkins Architects, which also incorporated another Barry building the Manchester Athenaeum, designed in 1826. Hopkins’ work is a well-detailed modern but austere composition of glass, concrete and steel. It comes into its own with the current exhibition “The Sensory War 1914-2014,” best seen on a dark winter’s evening when there is little daylight and thus it evokes the gloom of the battlefield.
Hanging over the staircase is Anthony Gormley’s sculpture “Filter”, made in 2002 and installed in the Gallery in 2009, at which time Gormley stated: “The work hangs in space as if in orbit, open to light and the elements. It is a meditation on the relationship between the core of the body and space at large….It suggests that, while movement, freedom of choice and the exercising of will is one way in which life expresses itself, there is another axis: the relationship between emotion and spatial experience.”
Two floors of the Hopkins’ extension are being used for the exhibition The Sensory War 1914-2014. and, on a winter’s evening, the visitor travels through the dark eerie staircase with Gormley’s statue floating above as a lifeless sentinel, a highly appropriate start to the exhibition inside which investigates a number of aspects of artists responses to the “impact of military conflict on the body, mind, environment and human senses between 1914 and 2014.”
Many leading 20th and 21st century artists are represented including Henry Lamb, CRW Nevinson, Paul Nash, Otto Dix, Nancy Spero, Richard Mosse and Omer Fast and the exhibition features art from around the world including the UK, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, Japan, Vietnam, New Zealand, Algeria, Ireland, Iran, Israel and Palestine. The themes include manufacture and military preparations at home to the impact of war on the soldiers on the front line, their treatment and their return home, treatment for disabilities and shell shock and funeral processions of soldiers lost in Afghanistan through the British town Royal Wootton Bassett. It includes illustrations of the dazzle ships from Edward Wadsworth, which have been artistically recreated in London and Liverpool this year. The exhibition pulls its punches – Pietro Morando’s studies depict the tortures inside prisoner of war camps during the First World War while Peter Howson shows the horror of rape in Bosnia. Up to date, it includes Omer Fast’s video 5,000 feet is the Best showing the terror of drone strikes both for the victims and the soldiers who have to operate them.