I try to avoid the word “woke”, says Tom Jones in The Critic. But after a recent visit to Manchester Art Gallery, I could find only one way to describe it: “woke nonsense”. The “artless drivel” began at the entrance. “We have been asking ourselves these questions,” a sign declared, and “we don’t know all the answers.” One question was: “What are the artworks and how did they get here?” Call me old fashioned, but I do think not knowing the answer to this might make you unsuitable – “even unqualified” – to work at Manchester Art Gallery.
Once inside, a particular highlight is The Empty Space – a literal empty space reserved for black women’s art because, unfortunately, the gallery doesn’t have any. The Pre-Raphaelite collection concludes with a digital print created in 2020, reminding gallery-goers that Priti Patel is a bad person. Incredibly, the Manchester Gallery will pocket a “cool £4.8m” to fund these loony installations over the next three years, courtesy of Arts Council England – and 80% of that comes directly from us taxpayers. The tragedy is that the institution has a “fantastic collection” of works by the likes of LS Lowry and John Constable, but these “national treasures” are relegated to second place in favour of gimmicks about identity politics. Galleries were once places you went to “celebrate the heights of man’s achievements”. Now they “illuminate the depths of his depravities”.