Tuesday 19 January 2010

Covering up for the Whitworth

The new wallpaper exhibition at the Whitworth - Walls Are Talking - launches in February and our team at Creative Concern have been hard at work designing the promo campaign for the show, which we’re really proud of.

Walls Are Talking is the first exhibition of its kind in the UK, featuring wallpapers by more than 30 internationally known artists including Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Niki de St. Phalle. Already well known for its wallpaper collection, the Whitworth is pulling together a genuinely challenging show and we knew that the campaign to promote it had to be every bit as edgy.

We worked with the City’s Creative Director, Peter Saville and photographer Graeme Cooper to produce the artwork, which directly responds to some of the core themes that the exhibition explores: subversion, sexuality and imprisonment.

The image (see above) features a portrait shown from below the eyes. It is an anonymous face with the mouth torn away revealing a layer of wallpaper. We wanted to capture the concept of the exhibition which is the idea of something passive taking over; ‘if only the walls could talk’.

Wallpaper was on my mind over Christmas actually, when I listened again to Stephen Fry’s ‘blessay’ on aesthetics and Oscar Wilde. In the podcast he recounts the time when Wilde was asked his view of the United States, famously responding that the reason that the US was such a violent, brutal place was because its wallpaper was so ugly.

As Stephen Fry then draws out, this is typical wildean flippancy at first hearing but actually stems from a deep belief in aesthetics and, critically, in the aesthetics of the everyday. It is the notion that if we care about design and quality and beauty then it will lift the spirits, enrich the human condition, make the world a better place.

Which is one reason why I’ll be just as focused on the Whitworth’s huge collection of ‘everyday’ wallpapers spanning several centuries, as well as the pieces submitted by the big name artists. Good design, and beauty, is something we should encounter from the moment we wake until the moment we finally stop Twittering and nod off to sleep.

And everyday aesthetics - finally - takes me back to one of my great Whitworth moments. The gallery has always been one of my favourites spaces, for over 20 years now. When I was a student I was there often, and one day a huge school group arrived to fill in work sheets, make some drawings and chatter their way through the galleries. As they emerged into the space, confronted by the rich collection of work, one of the children looked down, not up, and belted out the most lovely refrain: “What a beautiful floor!”

Walls Are Talking opens on February 6 and runs until May 3 and is collaboration with the V&A Museum. It includes specially commissioned work from artists Michael Craig-Martin and Catherine Bertola.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Steve, this looks like one of those brilliantly fetishistic-crossover exhibitions that will go great guns. And the creative is fab. Hope virtual or actual visitors will be designing their own wallpapers. Do you know the work of Remedios Varo? She was brilliant at bringing domestic interiors alive. Hope to speak soon. Julia Brown.