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Harry Meadley: ‘But what if we tried’ at Touchstones Rochdale. Courtesy of Touchstones Rochdale.
Harry Meadley: ‘But what if we tried’ at Touchstones Rochdale. Courtesy of Touchstones Rochdale.

But what if we tried? Harry Meadley at Touchstones, Rochdale

12 March 2019 | Sam Waller

Tired of spending your weekends wandering around sparse, minimal art galleries full of cold, harsh wall-space, and just a handful of paintings? Don’t fret, Rochdale’s Touchstone Gallery in Greater Manchester has the antidote in the shape of their new exhibition Why Don’t You Try?

Inspired by the fact that visitors are always asking why more of the gallery’s collection isn’t up on the walls, Leeds-based artist Harry Meadley has challenged Touchstone to display as much of their permanent fine-art collection as physically possible, meaning pretty much every single inch of available wall-space has been taken up with a piece from their enviable archives. Spanning three galleries the exhibition ignores the current trend for minimal, less-is-more displays in favour of a true maximalist mezze, mixing massive oil paint masterpieces with smaller, more intricate sketches. These are all displayed in order of when they were acquired by the gallery, as opposed to the more traditional method of grouping works by style or era - meaning in the space of a few square metres you’ll have everything from pop art to portraiture vying for your attention.


Photo Credit © Touchstones Rochdale

Starting with a collection of over 1,600 pieces, the final display features just less than 400 art works, and whilst that’s only around a quarter of the full archive, that’s still a huge amount to see. Covering everything included in the exhibition would be a tough task – but a few notable mentions include Charles Burton Barber’s much-reprinted 1893 painting ‘A Special Pleader’ and the most expensive piece in the collection, Lucian Freud’s ‘Woman’s Head with Yellow Background’.

Put simply, there’s a lot to look at, and although this might sound like a bit of a worn out cliché, if there was ever an exhibition that had something for everyone, then this would no doubt be it (providing you’re into paintings and stuff, obviously).

As you might imagine, gearing up hundreds of paintings for public display is no easy task, so to show all the hard graft involved in pulling off this bold idea, Harry has created a series of films documenting the build up to the exhibition which will also be included in the final display.

But why don’t galleries display all their art-works all the time? Why keep all these expensive paintings and priceless statues in a dark basement for no one to see? Well, apparently the common art gallery practice of keeping the majority of their archive hidden away is due to the fact that too much exposure to light will damage the work and fade the colours. So whilst many galleries would probably love to have their full collection out for all to see, in reality it would end in a load of dull, washed out paintings you could hardly see. Not ideal.

That said, having the paintings out on the walls for a couple of months won’t be an issue, and is a fine way for this often overlooked gallery to show off its impressive collection.

But what if we tried? is at Touchstones Rochale, The Esplanade, Rochdale, OL16 1AQ, from the 2 March - 1 June 2019, and is free to attend. 
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