This winter 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 winter, many of which are free to visit.
Art exhibitions in Manchester
1. Dandy Style, Manchester Art Gallery
Dandy Style offers an insight into the Dandy fashion of menswear from the 18th Century and the styles it has influenced, through portraiture and textile. The exhibition explores the evolution of concepts such as elegance, uniformity and spectacle over the last 250 years, and will launch Manchester Art Gallery‘s dedicated Fashion Gallery.
The exhibition will be spilt into two parts, Tailored Dandy and Decorated Dandy, exploring the Dandy identity and what it means to menswear. From fashion to fine art, Dandy Style will showcase work from artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, David Hockney and Peter James Field, photographers David Bailey, Olivia Rose and Jason Evans, and fashion designers Tommy Nutter, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Ozwald Boateng. Ends May 1 | Free entry.
2. South Asia Gallery, Manchester Museum
Manchester Museum’s new South Asia Gallery, a British Museum partnership, is the first permanent gallery in the UK dedicated to the experiences and histories of South Asian diaspora communities. The gallery will showcase over 140 historic artefacts, co-curated by the South Asian Gallery Collective, a group comprised of 30 inspiring individuals including community leaders, educators, artists, historians, journalists and musicians. It will also include new contemporary commissions and personal objects provided by the Collective, making this a deeply personal and touching exhibition. Permanent exhibition | Free entry.
3. Nina Chua and Daniel Silver, Castlefield Gallery
Castlefield Gallery presents a lively and exuberant art exhibition of the work of Nina Chua and Daniel Silver, which is part of the Manchester gallery’s ongoing series of two person shows and exhibitions. Chua invited Silver, an artist working at the forefront of contemporary figurative sculpture, to show a group of recent ceramic figures alongside a new set of her large-scale abstract drawings on paper.
Both artists work with materials in an intuitive, exploratory way leaving expression to the material itself. Silver’s figures seem to emerge from the clay, which plays a significant part in shaping the work, while the form of Chua’s drawings is determined as much by the qualities of paper and her use of marker pens as by her own hand. Ends January 29 | Free entry.
4. 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.
5. Althea McNish: Colour Is Mine, The Whitworth
Althea McNish was the first Caribbean designer to achieve international recognition and one of the most influential and innovative textile designers in the UK. Drawing on extensive new research, this touring exhibition from the William Morris Gallery in London explores McNish’s extraordinary career and her transformative impact on mid-century design, along with her enduring influence today.
Highlights of this exhibition at The Whitworth include items from McNish’s recently uncovered personal archive – much of which has never been seen before. Also on display will be examples of McNish’s original designs alongside her most celebrated textile and wallpapers. Ends April 23 | Free entry.
Photography exhibitions in Manchester
6. Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors, Imperial War Museum North
The Generations: Portraits of Holocaust Survivors photography exhibition will debut on Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January 2023, at Imperial Warm Museum North in remembrance of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi persecution and in genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Generations will display photographs of North West based Holocaust survivors, and feature harrowing stories of torture, death and ultimate bravery shown by these survivors and their families.
The exhibition seeks to keep in mind the collective responsibility we have to remember and share stories about those who endured conflict and persecution, and to demonstrate how these refugees have managed to rebuild their lives in the North West region. January 27 – Summer 2023 | Free entry.
7. Open House, The Whitworth
Framed by living memory, Open House evokes a time from World War II through to the gradual removal of wallpaper from homes in the 1990s. Through mostly photo collections, but also wallpaper remnants, conversations, mementos and anecdotes, the exhibition aims to share the stories provoked by these patterns from the people whose lives they were part of. The exhibition is very much a collaborative project, including input from countless residents of the UK, allowing a peek into the country’s residential history, recounting scenes of gendered, racialised, class, and culture-driven experiences in the United Kingdom.
Open House is therefore not only for design geeks wanting to view an extensive collection of wallpaper through the years, but for anyone interested in Manchester’s, and the wider UK’s, cultural history and how its people connected with historical events, such as World War II, and 20th Century eras, like the swinging 60s and eventually the turn of the century. Ends February 26 | 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 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. The Brontë Room at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
Last year, Elizabeth Gaskell’s house in Manchester opened a new room to add to their permanent exhibitions that explore Elizabeth’s role in Victorian society in a way that has never previously been done. As well as being an acclaimed author, Elizabeth Gaskell was a radical changemaker of her time and one connected with other notable female reformers like Florence Nightingale, George Eliot, Christabel Pankhurst and Beatrix Potter.
The exhibition in the new Brontë Room will explore how Elizabeth and her daughters played a role within the foundations of the trade union movement, supported soup kitchens and had a strongly philanthropic outlook. A newly commissioned film, exploring the relationship between Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell, and an interactive dressing up area are all part of the exhibition space, which fills the Brontë Room. Permanent. Tickets from £6.50.
Immersive exhibitions in Manchester
10. Turn It Up: The Power of Music, Museum of Science and Industry
Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry has opened a world-first immersive exhibition exploring the science of music’s mysterious hold over us and how it drives us to create, perform, feel and share. Through specially commissioned interactive and immersive installations, personal stories, musical tracks, dance and music-making opportunities, never-before-seen musical inventions, first-hand accounts from renowned musicians, artwork, cutting-edge research and unique instruments – discover the science behind music and what the future holds for melody making.
One of the most interactive exhibitions in Manchester, visitors can also put their knowledge and intuition to the test – guessing the meaning of songs from around the world even when the culture, language and instruments are unfamiliar; figuring out which songs have been created by a human or an AI; and testing your dance moves as the ‘Boogie to the Beat’ digital mirror motion tracks your Vogue, Renegade and Twist in the name of science. Ends May 2023 | Tickets from £6.
11. Power UP, Museum of Science and Industry
With over one hundred consoles from the past 50 years to try, Power UP is the immersive experience for the square-eyed teenager who will only make it out of their bedroom with the promise of more gaming. From Mario to Minecraft, and Sonic to Street Fighter, big kids will find this exhibition super nostalgic and engaging too, as you’re able to step back in time to play some of the biggest video games ever invented. As well as the nostalgia of the Ataris and Gameboys on offer, Power UP also brings gaming right up to date with the opportunity to try virtual reality gaming, meaning a whole new experience for all the family.
Whether you’re buzzing to see an arcade-size Pacman console, or a budding musician wanting to face-off with a 12-year-old on Guitar Hero, there’s something for everyone, and Power UP really aims to get families together having fun. Open for the foreseeable | Tickets from £6.
Cultural exhibitions in Manchester
12. British Pop Archive, John Rylands Library
Dedicated to the history of British pop music, the British Pop Archive exhibition is the perfect day out for any music lover. From magazine covers and gig posters, to guitars and scraps of paper where legendary songs were written, the BPA is a music geek’s dream. With input from The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, the collection tracks the history of many Manchester musicians and bands such as Joy Division, New Order and the Stone Roses, and has received great interest from musicians, archivists and journalists up and down the country.
Of course, the archive focuses on music history and culture, but it also tracks historical events through this, looking at radical movements such as punk and contention mods and rockers, as well as the wider popular culture of different eras.. The exhibition has been extended to end in February 2023, but curators hope that with growing interest it will grow and reopen as a more permanent fixture in John Rylands Library. Ends February 4 | Free entry.
13. Brick by Brick: Architectures of potential, Portico Library
Brick by Brick is concerned with the history of architecture and the future of accessible, inclusive, environmental design at Manchester’s Portico Library. The exhibition consists of models, drawings and films by architectural artists who seek to challenge traditional methods and forms. Ultimately the exhibition is a collaborative experience that allows visitors and artists alike to determine the future of the Portico Library, accepting notes stuck on a floorplan of the building with suggestions of how to make it more accessible and useful for the public.
By showcasing ideas that take tradition into consideration whilst making it work for the modern world, Brick by Brick emulates the challenges and joys of architecture, and shows the effect it can have on culture and the surrounding environment. Ends March 13 | Free entry.