This autumn sees Manchester host a range of exhibitions, whether it be galleries, studios and museums presenting art from both new and renowned artists, or installations that really get you thinking and immersed in the experience. Manchester is a cultural hub and you’ll find plenty of exhibitions showcasing the likes of art, photography, memorabilia, sculptures and historical artefacts across the city to discover during your free time. So switch off from the everyday and become fully absorbed in these exhibitions taking place in Manchester this autumn, many of which are free to visit.
Art exhibitions in Manchester
1. L.S Lowry Exhibition, The Lowry
Of course, the largest collection of L.S Lowry‘s work has to be on display at his namesake gallery, and now once again complete with his infamous painting Going To The Match, which sold to them for almost £8 million at the end of 2022, The Lowry boasts its most comprehensive selection ever. Lowry’s so-called ‘matchstick men‘ populate his paintings based on locations around the North West where he spent most of his life, especially Pendlebury, Lancashire, and often evoke a familiarity in northerners, whether through the industrial landscapes they portray, or familiar activities such as ‘Going To Work‘ or milling around a ‘Market Scene‘.
In addition to his paintings, the gallery also houses an extensive archive of photographs, press cuttings and exhibition catalogues associated with Lowry, providing critical and curatorial analysis of his work for a deeper look at the person behind the easel. This permanent exhibition is perfect for anyone familiar with his work who wants to get a real-life look at their favourite pieces, but also newbies keen to take in some North West culture at the true home of L.S Lowry. Permanent exhibition | Free entry.
2. Michael Beard, Manchester Craft and Design Centre
This year marks the Manchester Craft and Design Centre’s 150th anniversary, and in celebration Venture Arts artist Michael Beard will be showing a series of new works inspired by Manchester architecture.
Beard is well known for his large-scale drawings (Thumbs Up at Castlefield Gallery, 2020), which he continues to develop and explore, as well as working on a new body of work in ceramics, inspired by the Manchester skyline. As part of this exhibition, he will also be collaborating with ceramicist Sue Cragg, a Manchester Craft and Design Centre resident maker, on a series of functional items, which she will throw and he will decorate. Ends 24 December | Free entry.
3. Manchester Open Exhibition 2024, HOME Gallery
Taking place every two years, the Open Exhibition is the biggest celebration of Greater Manchester’s creative talent. Between 3 February and 28 April 2024, the HOME Gallery walls will be filled with work created by you, selected by a panel consisting of art experts and community representatives. Open to all, those who already identify as artists and those who don’t, the Manchester Open brings together artwork including paintings, prints, photography, sculpture, ceramics, digital and mixed media, video, audio and more. Ends April 2024 | Free entry.
4. Julia and Axel – Thirty Years of Favourite Stories, The Lowry
This autumn, popular children’s books The Gruffalo, Zog, Stick Man and Room on the Broom are all brought together for a free exhibition at The Lowry in Salford. The major new exhibition in collaboration with publishers Macmillan Children’s Books and Scholastic will celebrate the acclaimed partnership between writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler.
Known as Julia and Axel – Thirty Years of Favourite Stories, the exhibition brings to life some of the world’s best loved characters in contemporary children’s fiction. Running until the end of the year, visitors can discover more stories behind well-known characters from the terrible tusks and terrible claws of the Gruffalo to the Witch, her cat, and her very tall hat, and Stick Man on his journey home to the ‘family tree’ at this exhibition. Ends 1 January, 2024 | Free entry.
5. Albrecht Dürer’s Material World, The Whitworth
Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Material World’ is the first major exhibition of the Whitworth’s outstanding Dürer collection in over half a century. The exhibition offers a new perspective on Dürer as an intense observer of the worlds of manufacture, design, and trade that fill his graphic art. Woodcuts, etchings, and engravings, from the Whitworth’s collection, are juxtaposed with a range of objects from Dürer’s time, including armour and tableware, books and scientific instruments, textiles, and exotic artefacts.
The exhibition highlights the ingenuity and skill with which Dürer, a leading figure of Europe’s print revolution, represented his material world. Ends March 10, 2024 | Entry is free.
6. Dinu Li: A Phantom’s Vibe, esea contemporary
A Phantom’s Vibe is a solo exhibition by artist Dinu Li, featuring newly commissioned and existing works that combine music, sculptural assemblages, and video installation. The exhibition explores the complexities of colonial history, cultural memory, and hybrid identities. The wonderful exhibition will take place at esea contemporary, the UK’s only non-profit art centre specialising in presenting and platforming artists and art practices that identify with and are informed by East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) cultural backgrounds. Ends 29 October | Free entry.
7. Subtle Rebellion, Great Northern Warehouse
Located at Great Northern Warehouse on Deansgate Terrace, ‘Subtle Rebellion’ the next in series arts project by Helen and David Roscoe-Rutter, has landed at 285 Deansgate. The new exhibition focuses on travel experiences and the communities encountered whilst exploring the world, documented through a series of travel photography.
Inspired by the artists’ trip to China twelve years ago, alongside other communities which have impacted their personal lives, the collection is reflective and interactive, encouraging people to think about their own communities and experiences. Ends 20 October | Free entry.
Historical exhibitions in Manchester
8. People’s History Museum
Manchester’s People’s History Museum is the UK’s only museum entirely dedicated to sharing the stories of the revolutionaries, reformers, workers, voters and citizens who strive(d) for change. We recommend checking out the entire collection at PHM as it’s ever-growing and truly fascinating. From suffragette banners and badges, to political posters and artwork, the PHM tracks the political and community history of Manchester, focusing on those who have, and still, fight for justice and equality.
PHM Manchester also champion ‘ideas worth fighting for‘ by proudly exhibiting works linked to disabled people’s activism, with their ‘Nothing About Us Without Us‘ and ‘Quiet‘ exhibitions, and LGBTQ+ history with ‘OUTing the Past‘. PHM also aim to be as disability-inclusive as possible, especially with championing disabled people’s rights, so accessibility is no issue. Exhibition durations differ | Free entry – donation encouraged.
9. Lily Parr display, National Football Museum
Lily Parr – one of football’s first female superstars – gets a new permanent museum display dedicated to her life and legacy. It features never-seen-before photographs of Lily and her teammates – which were found in an old suitcase hidden in a loft for four decades. Emerging in the 1920s as part of Preston’s Dick Kerr Ladies, Parr scored nearly 1000 goals in a three-decade career. She played in some of the world’s first women’s international matches and was a trailblazer for women footballers the world over. Permanent exhibition | Entry is free.
10. At Home with the Pankhurst Family, Pankhurst Centre
Ever since No.62 Nelson Street was saved from demolition in the 1980s, the Pankhurst Centre has endeavoured to protect and preserve this important historical building and ensure the story of Emmeline Pankhurst is told to inspire and motivate the next generation of radical activists. This engaging and immersive exhibition explores the extraordinary achievements of the Pankhurst Family in the house where they lived and where the very first meeting of the Women’s Social & Political Union took place in 1903. Permanent exhibition | Entry is free – book your slot here.
Immersive exhibitions in Manchester
11. Operation Ouch!: Food, Poo and You, Science and Industry Museum
From the brains behind CBBC hit Operation Ouch!, immersive exhibition Food, Poo and You is truly for the whole family, providing interactive education on the digestive system and human biology. It promises plenty of giggle-worthy grossness, from exploring a set of super-sized gnashers, to slipping down the oesophagus and investigating the innerworkings of the intestines.
Continuing at the Museum of Science and Industry Manchester until summer 2024, Food, Poo and You sees visitors sent on a special mission to get up close and, in one case, extremely personal, with presenters Dr Chris, Dr Xand and Dr Ronx as they are shrunk, swallowed, squeezed through and spat out of Dr Xand’s digestive system during a lively, interactive and playful adventure to better understand our brilliant bodies. Ends June 2024 | Tickets from £9.
12. The Meditation of Drawing, Manchester Cathedral
The Manchester Academy of Fine Arts initiated this exhibition to explore and promote the positive aspects of drawing. Visitors to this exhibition will see how MAFA artists each have their own individual approaches to drawing. MAFA hopes to inspire with the drawings on display in the Nave of the Cathedral and selected sketchbook images in the Chapter House. Responding to the concept of the exhibition, the public will be able to participate by drawing the surroundings around them. Ends October 12 | Entry is free.
13. Random Objects of Kindness, Manchester Arndale
This is a free audio-visual exhibition about lived experiences of homelessness in Manchester. Ten people who have lived experiences of homelessness, or have worked in local support agencies, are publicly sharing their deeply personal and candid spoken stories as part of the project created by the local spoken stories company, Heard Storytelling. The exhibition aims to increase understanding of the different factors contributing to homelessness and highlight the importance of community support.
The installation will comprise of beautiful, large-scale portraits of the RANDOM OBJECTS OF KINDNESS’ storytellers and their spoken stories will be accessed via scanning a QR code on listeners’ mobile phones. Next to each ‘living portrait’ is an image of an item pivotal to their journey towards independent living. Running until 23 October at Manchester Arndale in the mall near the Monki store, this exhibition has been commissioned by the shopping centre to raise awareness of and donations to one of its charity partners, Real Change MCR. Ends 23 October | Entry is free.
Cultural exhibitions in Manchester
14. Scene on Screen, Waterside Arts (Sale)
This new exhibition from the Cosgrove Hall Films Archive will explore animated worlds, sharing recent acquisitions to the archive, including original design drawings and concept artwork from The BFG, Count Duckula and Fool of the World and the Flying Ship. The show will also feature props and set pieces from stop motion favourites such as Postman Pat.
Within animation, a location could feature for a split second and yet designers, writers and art directors work tirelessly before production begins, laying out, developing back stories and building out whole worlds to accompany and rationalise design decisions. Animated worlds are an escape and these story worlds are the stage for the performances to play out. Ends 6 January 2024 | Entry is free.
15. (Un)Defining Queer, The Whitworth
This exhibition delves into The Whitworth’s collection to examine how we can use a queer lens to define what the term ‘queer’ means. Presenting collection works that have never been on display before, as well as loans, the exhibition includes artists such as: Ajamu X, Niki de Saint Phalle, General Idea, David Hockney, Maggie Hambling, Pearl Alcock, Keith Vaughan, Matthew Bamber, Sarah-Joy Ford, Wolfgang Tillmans, Chester Tenneson, and Jez Dolan.
Co-led by an intersectional group of people who self-identify as LGBTQIA+, the project sets out to interrogate language, histories, and narratives within The Whitworth’s practice and collections. More specifically, the project and exhibition seek to redress historic omissions that have existed as a result of heteronormative museum practice. Ends 3 December | Free entry – some events require booking/tickets.
16. Unpicking Couture, Manchester Art Gallery
Showcasing spectacular high-end fashion at Manchester Art Gallery, Unpicking Couture celebrates pioneering creativity and design from some of the most legendary designers in the world, past and present, all in one exhibition.
Created by influential designers and fashion houses, each outfit represents a groundbreaking moment in fashion and includes works by Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, Azzedine Alaïa, Cristobal Balenciaga, Pierre Cardin, Vivienne Westwood, Yohji Yamamoto, Bruce Oldfield and Alexander McQueen. Ends January 25, 2024 | Entry is free.
17. Make Some Noise, Museum of Wigan Life
An exciting new free exhibition that celebrates music and entertainment from across the borough opens at the Museum of Wigan Life. From cinemas and local legends to brass bands and northern soul – this exhibition brings to life the incredible range of genres Greater Manchester towns have embraced and called their own.
Expect to see original objects and hear music from Wigan Casino, jazz, community groups, local bands, and much more. This hands-on, family-friendly exhibition has something for everyone, and memories will come flooding back. Ends January 1, 2024 | Entry is free.