Belfast weekend brings wealth of rewarding art exhibitions

What seems to have become an annual weekend in Belfast was a chance to take in some of the latest exhibitions.
At Belfast Exposed, Tom Wood’s photographic exhibition Men and Women makes use of his vast archive to pull out works to make up this gender-related exhibition. People go about daily life, caught in action by Wood, who was born in Mayo in west Ireland in 1951, and studied painting at Leicester Polytechnic. It’s a fascinating set of observations, with Three Wise Women standing out, showing three women, one proudly carrying a new waste bin, carefully walking away from a very tatty outdoor sale.
The mac, Metropolitan Arts Centre, was a new find to me last year, and opened in April 2012. Last year it featured Belfast’s first big Andy Warhol exhibition. This year it’s showing works by Kara Walker, or as the mac puts it “We at the MAC are Exceedingly Proud to Present an Exhibition of Capable Artworks by the Notable Hand of the Celebrated American, Kara Elizabeth Walker, Negress.”


Walker is described as investigating “underlying racial and gender tensions in today’s society”, and does this across all three galleries. The top one dances with huge silhouetted cut-outs on the walls, entitled THE SOVEREIGN CITIZENS SESQUICENTENNIAL CIVIL WAR CELEBRATION, with deep undertones of abuse of power relations, violence and sexual abuse.
In another room, Dust Jackets for the Niggerati, shows large drawings designed as book covers, and there are also three video installations, one featuring shadow puppets similar to the silhouettes, looking at stories of black men executed for alleged relations with white women in the American south.
It’s a powerful exhibition and worth watching the filmed interview with Kara Walker in the resources room.
The mac itself is also a stunning and unusual building, and it’s worth wandering around its many layers and enjoying the different views from the inside. Through it, The Permanent Present by Mark Garry is a beautiful art work made up of hundreds of lines of coloured thread which spans the open spaces and is entrancing from all angles.
Up in the University area, Ulster Museum my favourite of their current exhibitions was one entitled simply Highlights of the Modern Collection, which showed just what a great collection they have.
The exhibition shows the works in groups from the early twentieth century to the present day, and includes the equivalent of the YBAs of the 1920s and 1930s, part exploring developments in post-war British and international art, then the world of the 1970s until the present.
The early works go together particularly well and include a Roger Fry landscape, and works by Vanessa Bell, William Nicholson, Stanley Spencer, Augustus John and Lucien Pissarro. Sir Paul Nash’s St Pancras Lillies shows the flowers in front of a window, the station clearly shown behind.
Other rooms include a typically dense work by Tapies, thick paint with marks gouged on to the surface, and there’s a Francis Bacon and comparisons of the works of Joseph Beuys and Anthony Caro.
Bringing the collection into this century are several stunning photographs by Paul Seawright from his Invisible Cities collection, looking at “the reordering of space in post colonial cities in sub-Saharan Africa”. In one, a lost mother and child sit alone in what looks like a scruffy waiting room, and in another a huge electrical pylon sits on the edge of a lake, with a town of tiny, basic buildings is dwarfed nearby, the march of progress taking over.
So again, although my main reason for going to Belfast hadn’t been for the exhibitions, the time spent in galleries was rewarding and definitely worth a trip to the windy city.

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