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The Walls Are Talking in Manchester

February 2, 2010 by Kay

'Walls Are Talking: Wallpaper, Art and Culture' opens this Friday at The Whitworth Art Gallery and sees a collaboration with the V&A to exhibit various designs of wallpaper by over 30 international artists. Included in the exhibition will be a selection of Other Criteria's wallpaper by Damien Hirst as well as work by Michael-Craig Martin, Andy Warhol, Sarah Lucas and many more.

The exhibition at The University of Manchester is the first of its kind in the UK and explores the style, history and production methods of the wallpapers.

For more information on the exhibition view the official press release below or visit The Whitworth Art Gallery's website.


Butterfly Wallpaper Damien Hirst 2004 Copyright: the artist

Sarah Lucas,Tits in Space, 2000

Sarah Lucas Tits in Space Wallpaper 2000
Copyright: the artist Courtesy: Sadie Coles HQ, London

Allen Jones, Right Hand Lady, 1972

Allen Jones Right Hand Lady 1972
Courtesy: The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester


Walls Are Talking: Wallpaper, Art and Culture The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester

6 February – 3 May 2010

The Whitworth Art Gallery is delighted to present the first ever major UK exhibition of artists’ wallpapers. Including work by Damien Hirst, Thomas Demand, Anya Gallaccio, David Shrigley, Michael Craig-Martin, Angus Fairhurst, Rosemarie Trockel, Martin Boyce, Robert Gober, Francesco Simeti, Niki de St. Phalle and Abigail Lane, this is a seminal show of rare works, allowing the viewer to re-evaluate the role of wallpaper in contemporary art.

Walls Are Talking, curated by Christine Woods and Gill Saunders, features more than 30 international artists and traces the development of their interest in wallpaper, demonstrating how they have played on wallpaper’s domestic and decorative associations to throw into sharp relief their shocking or subversive messages, appropriation of historic motifs, and political or cultural observations.

Sometimes associated with kitsch, wallpaper has, in the last two decades, become a meaningful medium for contemporary artists. Its connotations of home and personal identity have proved a useful vehicle through which artists can explore themes of warfare, racism, conflicts in contemporary culture, gender, sexuality and design. Walls Are Talking looks at how these artists have used new or existing patterns to powerful effect, as well as including examples produced for the late 20th century popular market, setting artists’ ideas in a historical and cultural context. The exhibition also examines the interface between wallpapers as artists’ works and as products designed or made commercially.

The exhibition is grouped around themes, from subversion to commodification, imprisonment to gender and sexuality. Sonia Boyce’s work Clapping, 1994, evokes a feeling of claustrophobia and predatory menace, strengthened by the repetitive nature of the design of the black and white hand print. Zineb Sedira’s works from the series Une Génération de Femmes use wallpaper design techniques to illustrate social inequalities and gender difference from her French-Algerian Islamic perspective. In stark contrast to this are popular commercial papers that reinforce cultural and gender stereotypes, from Barbie to teenage idols the Spice Girls, to the use of male symbols, whether beer cans or idealised female bodies. Thomas Demand, one of the foremost conceptual artists working today, covers the entire South Gallery in the show in his Ivy wallpaper – intricate pieces of paper cut out and photographed make up this lifelike work of beauty. Amusing, like David Shrigley’s Industrial Estate, or startling, like Bashir Makhoul’s Points of View, the rolls of paper in this show provide an unprecedented insight into a bold and progressive contemporary art form.

Wallpaper has long been thought of as a backdrop to the main event. With so many prominent designers and artists using the medium as their primary method of expression, this exhibition explores the possibilities and power of print.

The Whitworth Art Gallery is the only UK gallery where wallpaper can always be seen on public display. Its collection of papers comprises several thousand examples and has an international reputation. The bulk of the Collection was given to the Gallery in 1967 by The Wall Paper Manufacturers Ltd., which had controlled most of the UK wallpaper industry since 1899. Since the 1970s further donations and purchases have helped to make the Collection one of outstanding national importance, giving this contemporary art exhibition an historic and resonant home.

This major touring exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the V&A and the Whitworth Art Gallery. The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated book and a two-day conference, taking place in March 2010.

Whitworth Art Gallery, Oxford Road, Manchester M15 6ER
Monday to Saturday 10 - 5, Sunday 12 - 4