Tour guide blog Angels of Anarchy exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery en-uk Still life, breasts and fur My first ‘Angel of Anarchy’ tour went well last Saturday, about fifteen men and women of various age groups were in the group and we focused on three exhibits in each section, and looked at others.

Some interesting comments were made at the end of the tour which I thought were of interest. In the Still life section I directed the focus of the group to the photograph Amputated Breast on Plate by Lee Miler. I mentioned beforehand that it was not meant to offend and that one of the reasons for its existence was that Lee and other females were fed up being appreciated only for their breasts and that other qualities were overlooked. One member of the group said that the photograph did not make her feel uncomfortable because she had spent most of her working life in a hospital operating theatre. Another lady commented that it was a statement that needed to be made both then and now. The same person thought that Meret Oppenheim’s, Breakfast in Fur would not have the same impact today as in 1936 because our attitude to wearing fur has changed. Everyone thought it was an interesting exhibition, however one person said she would not wish to have a copy of any exhibit in her home.

Next time I must make sure I get some male comments, looking back over this I realise all the comments are from females.

Sat, 21 Nov 2009 00:00:00 +0000
Flamboyant Angel I have been wondering what Joseph Bard, husband of Eileen Agar, was like and why she depicted him in the way she did for her artworks - the Angel of Anarchy and the Angel of Mercy. Before my tour, I searched the Internet and found a photo of Eileen and Joseph on their wedding day in 1940. Joseph looked fairly ordinary, wearing a trilby, trousers, black shoes and a long, tweed overcoat. I found out that he was Hungrarian and wrote short stories, some of which, when published including illustrations by his wife Eileen. I took a print of the photo along on my tour and showed it to everyone, as we were looking at the Angel of Anarchy.

For me, this artwork is very flamboyant - with the vivid colours of the silks and fabrics, the sparkling diamantes and the luxurious ostrich and osprey feathers - did Joseph have a flamboyant personality or maybe he enjoyed dressing up in private! Someone said that Hungrarian men were known for their flamboyant style of dress in the early 20th century. The Angel of Mercy is very different - we can see the eyes and facial features - quite menacing! - some people said that the Angel of Mercy looked like a Roman. Does anyone out there have any views?

On the tour, we looked at the painting "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" by Dorothea Tanning. Someone asked why she chose this title, when the content of the painting is so nightmarish - in total contrast to the light musical piece composed by Mozart. Later, we spent some time discussing the "Pincushion to serve as a fetish" by the same artist - Dorothea Tanning - again, there were the contrasts of the sharp, painful steel of the pins and the softness of the velvet along with the very strange erotic shapes and orifices. We thought it would be a very interesting topic of conversation for our friends if we owned such an artwork and displayed it in our homes!

I had an interesting question at the end of the tour "Did the women surrealists take drugs?" I have since checked with the curator, Dr. Patricia Allmer, and there is no evidence of this - but maybe alcohol!

Thu, 05 Nov 2009 00:00:00 +0000
Exquisite Corpse The tour went well today. It was interesting to hear how different people bring their own experiences to the exhibition. One lady was particularly interested in the idea of the 'Exquisite Corpse' because her family still play the written and drawn versions every Christmas. I wonder who invented the idea?

Mon, 26 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0000
Expect the unexpected I did my first tour of the Angels of Anarchy exhibition at the weekend – had lots of people on the tour and it seemed to go well! I didn’t know a lot about Surrealism before the training for the exhibition and I now realise how different it is to other Art movements such as Romanticism, Pre-Raphaelitism and Impressionism that I usually talk about on the Highlights tours.

As I was taking the group around the exhibition, it struck me how we seem to always need answers and how the unusual and the inexplicable (a bizarre view of an interior/landscape or strange arrangement of objects in a still life) can throw us and take us out of our comfort zone. I was asked to explain Kay Sage’s Starlings, Caravans - all I could do was to share my own personal interpretation of this image and the effect it has had on me – it was great to hear others’ personal thoughts too. This was also the case for Eileen Agar’s Angels of Anarchy, which I see as something very colourful, flamboyant and intriguing whereas someone else on the tour found it very threatening and oppressive.

At the end of the tour, I felt that we had been on a very interesting Surrealist journey, which might help us to expect the unexpected and realise that everything doesn’t always have to be set in stone!


Fri, 16 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100
The first tour. This was the first of the Angels of Anarchy tours and I was joined by around 20 people. I found the tour in the exhibition space didn’t run too long as there is less walking around than there is with our Highlights tour which covers most of the gallery.

I covered 11 artworks - something from each of the five main sections plus the 'Angel of Anarchy' and one from 'Exquisite Corpse' - so there was not too much information on any one piece. I was quite happy with this number of works in the time and didn't want to waffle. Since the tour I keep remembering things that I meant to say but forget, but I expect we all do that at times. Another time I'd think about including a more contemporary artist e.g. Penny Slinger; although her pieces were from the 1970s they have a very modern look. I did include a Woodman in from 1970s.

There was a steady stream of visitors but not so crowded that a tour was difficult. Around 20 could get into the portrait gallery and the landscape room without a problem, but the room of Surrealist Objects is too small for other than a very small group - sadly!

Much as I'd like to have talked about Lee Miller's 'Severed Breast .... ' I decided not to risk it. I did point it out, however, because it had been mentioned on Woman’s Hour.

No debates arose from the visitors and I didn't want to be proactive and raise subjects myself; I'll have to think of a way of drawing this element in another time. Perhaps the groups will be a bit smaller when the exhibition has been on for a while - I'm sure debate is easier in a smaller group.

It was great to get the first tour ‘under my belt’ and I’m looking forward to hearing how the other guides get on and what the response from the visitors is like.

Listen to the the curator Patricia Allmer and writer Jeanette Winterson discussing Angels of Anarchy on Woman’s Hour via the BBCs listen again facility.

Sun, 04 Oct 2009 00:00:00 +0100