Expect the Unexpected: Exhibition Review

‘Expect the Unexpected’ group exhibition at The Lowry

I seem to be the youngest one in the gallery, by a couple of generations! It may be because it is a Wednesday afternoon and everyone my age have ‘proper’ jobs. Or, it may be the type of crowd that The Lowry attracts? Whilst I reviewing ‘Expect the Unexpected’, a couple of people walked into the gallery space and simply said ‘where are the Lowry paintings?’. I didn’t expect that! They strolled right through the temporary exhibition and headed for the famous Lowry’s. I wonder how often the gallery assistants get that?

Another issue I have with The Lowry, is their social media presence – or lack there of. There is no mention of this exhibition on Instagram, and very little on their Facebook, which also must contribute to the fact that people aren’t aware of this exhibition. Is the Lowry not a place people go for contemporary art? Is it too far out of town? Is the Lowry Gallery tarnished with the same brush of the Lowry Outlet – dated? It’s a shame really, because ‘Expect the Unexpected’ is a really good exhibition!

Note – I visited this exhibition twice, so apologies if my tense and the order of things is all skew-whiff.

Inspired by John Cage’s famous ‘4’33’ sound piece, (where he doesn’t actually play any music, but records all the chance noises that surround us, coughing, twitching, cars on the road outside etc) the work in ‘Expect the Unexpected’ explores the themes of chance. The term ‘chance operations’ is used, which is described as ‘a way to generate something creative using methods that are outside of the artists control.’

I noticed in this exhibition a lot of ‘famous’ pieces, pieces that even non-art fans would recognise or would have heard of. For example, Yoko Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’, the video where Yoko Ono invites the audience to use a pair of scissors and literally cut her clothes. I feel like The Lowry are missing a big promotion trick here! Yoko Ono just created a piece for the launch of Manchester International Festival, why aren’t they using that as a hook to help promote this exhibition?

The other famous piece is the Gillian Wearing series ‘Signs that say want you want…’ with the very recognisable image of the young man wearing a suit, holding up a sign saying ‘I’m desperate’.

One photography piece, which I’m pretty sure went viral on social media, was by Joel Goodman. This photo is the epitome of Manchester on a Friday/Saturday night. In this photograph you see all sorts of people including a chubby man, belly half out, lying in the road reaching for his beer. Someone else is getting arrested in the gutter whilst on-looking smokers stand outside the club, all against the back-drop of Manchester Arndale. The photograph, which wasn’t taken in 2016, is framed in an antique looking gold Baroque-style type frame. This juxaposition works great! It takes this everyday snapshot of the city centre scene, and turns it into a rare and expensive item. It gives the image a value, giving it an aura of greatness. Which is is! This photograph should go down in Manchester’s history books as a great documentary shot of what Manchester is like on a rowdy night.

Sara Sze’s sculptures were interesting. At first, it looks like they should be in motion, like they should be turning either by motor, or human interaction. Then you see the ‘Please Do Not Touch’ sign. I edge closer to the sculptures and see why, the first one has an extremely sharp scalpel hanging from a string. As I look further into the art I see how delicate these pieces are, fragile and thin. I see other sharp edges, broken ceramic and sharp points. So yeah, definitely one to look at, but not touch.

One piece that really did stand out was the interactive sculpture ‘Coordinate’ by Easy Peel Studio. This piece started off as an empty huge cube, but now it is filled with hundreds of inter-weaving pieces of thread. All around the cube are numbers, and next to the cube you find a game of dice. You roll the dice, find your number and use the string to link the two numbers together. As more people get involved, more strings are added. It now looks like one of those spider-web like climbing frames you find in a child’s playground. Or like some ridiculously difficult challenge you’d see in the Crystal Maze – like when you have to crawl through the lasers without touching any. The sculpture will continue to fill, continue to grow for the full duration of the exhibition. – Now, this is a false sentence. When I revisited the exhibition before posting this review, they had cleared all the strings and started again! It was pretty bare when I visited the second time. Pretty annoying. I wanted to see it wedged full of strings, so much so that there were no gaps. I wanted what started out as an empty cube, full of negative space, to become a solid structure of colour!

I think ‘Expect the Unexpected’ is really well curated. There are some big names here, some recognisable work, and some new things I haven’t seen before. I totally get how all the works link back to chance, and the ‘unexpected.’ It doesn’t feel forced or pretentious, it’s got a good mix of paintings, sculptures, video and photography. Actually, whilst writing this, I realise that I actually really, really liked this exhibition! More so than I thought at the start! But what I can’t shake is the idea that no one reading this will go. I may be totally wrong but it seems to me that people forget about The Lowry. And I don’t think The Lowry are putting in as much advertising of their exhibitions as they should. It kind of feels like the temporary exhibitions are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Theatre at the top – L.S Lowry’s paintings – then temporary exhibitions at the bottom. I hope in writing this that you will go and check this out, and that someone from The Lowry may take note, and start sharing more about the art they have there – because it is definitely worth seeing!

Expect the Unexpected‘ is on at The Lowry from 29th June – 29th September.

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