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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

Animating galleries

Fresh perspectives on Surrealism and contemporary art.

The Whitworth Art Gallery hosted Subversive Spaces in 2009 and there was a 31% increase in visitors aged 25-45.
The Whitworth hosted Subversive Spaces in 2009 and there was a 31% increase in visitors aged 25-45.

The Centre for the Study of Surrealism and its Legacies has co-created outstanding exhibitions that have challenged received ideas about Surrealism. Our researchers have collaborated with artists and galleries and had a lasting impact on their creative practices and artistic expression.

Young people are drawn to Surrealism as the Manchester art scene pushes boundaries

Our 2009 exhibition, Subversive Spaces: Surrealism and Contemporary Art, was hosted in Manchester, Warwickshire and Norwich. Nearly 50,000 visitors came to Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery during the exhibition, a huge increase on the same period in previous years. BBC Radio 4, the Manchester Confidential, The Independent, The Art Newspaper and The Times all gave the exhibition positive reviews.

Fruitmarket Gallery map
30,000 visited Narcissus Reflected at Edinburgh's Fruitmarket Gallery.

A second exhibition, Narcissus Reflected, was shown at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. It was viewed by over 30,000 visitors, exceeding the projected total by more than 5,000. Gallery website visits were up 22.9% during the exhibition, Facebook referrals increased 53% and gallery bookshop sales exceeded targets by 40%. The exhibition, which was underpinned by research into Surrealism and sexuality funded by the AHRC, was commended by both The Independent and The Times.

Our research and the accompanying exhibitions have also influenced the creative practice of artists and galleries:

  • The Whitworth Art Gallery developed a wholly new system for managing the ambitious loans for "Subversive Spaces", now used for all its displays.
  • A downloadable self-guide visitor pack was produced to offer some guidance to the challenging works in "Subversive Spaces". The Whitworth Art Gallery now creates such a pack for all its exhibitions.
  • The complex planning and design for "Subversive Spaces" led to new guidance protocols for Whitworth curators.
  • Appealing to a youthful audience, "Subversive Spaces" propelled The Whitworth Art Gallery to centre-stage in Manchester’s contemporary cultural scene.

Testimonies from Mark Dion, Gregor Schneider and Ron Athey reveal that these artists have produced new and fresh work as a direct result of collaborating with the Surrealism Centre.

Our research

Our research examined the intellectual and artistic legacies of Surrealism, exploring how this movement has influenced contemporary visual culture. We put sexuality on the agenda for Surrealist scholarship, shaking up accepted views and coining the term 'queer Surrealism' at a Harvard workshop in 2009.

We ensure our research findings have an impact on artists, galleries and the general public by:

  • Engaging with the public through exhibitions, websites and publications;
  • Engaging with artists and influencing their creative output; and
  • Challenging gallery spaces to push their creative boundaries.

Lead academic