Hit the North! The best art exhibitions to see in the North of England during 2015

By Richard Moss | 25 September 2015 | Updated: 01 December 2015

Culture24's constantly updated guide to the best exhibitions to see in the North of England between now and Christmas

North West

a photo of a figure illuminated by a light installation in Grundy Art Gallery
An art alternative to Blackpool Illuminations: Sensory Systems at Grundy Art Gallery© Courtesy Grundy Art Gallery
At Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal the autumn ushers in a celebration of Georgian architecture with  (until February 14 2016). The show examines the artist’s nearly 10-year stay in England from 1746 - and the architecture he created.

The other major Lakeland Visual Arts venue, Blackwell Arts and Crafts House, an exhibition called  (until December 31) presents the work of three ceramic artists who each examine notions of ceramics and art today.

There’s more ceramic art in Ideas of Order: Edmund de Waal, Hans Stofer and Wallace Stevens (ongoing display) which takes the different approaches of the two ceramic artists and jumbles them up with a bit of poetry thrown in.  (until December 31) revisits the ‘modern’ designs for a country house submitted by the artist for the December 1900 issue of influential German journal, Journal of Interior Decoration.

Blackburn Art Gallery and Museum hosts a North West leg of the ARTIST ROOMS tour with  (until December 5) examining the urban architecture of the American painter with some interesting dialogues between his images and those of Blackburn.

Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre has (until February 27 2016) features the work of Hilary Jack whose found objects and sculptural installations explore “anxieties over geopolitics, environmental change and rare celestial occurrences”.

In Preston The Harris’s (until April 30 2016) explores how British style for both men and women evolved during a time of major social, political and cultural change between the 1880s and 1930s.

Over in Blackpool, Grundy Art Gallery have invited contemporary artist Ben Cain to respond to the permanent collection, creating a body of work inspired by the gallery's artworks. (until January 30) sees the resulting pieces exhibited beside the artwork they were inspired by, and features the skills of local artists and makers.


a photo of Manchester Art gallery's entrance way with multicoloured new greek sculptures on the the plinths either side of the stairway
Matthew Darbyshire welcomes vistors to Manchester Art Gallery
Manchester Art Gallery’s, (September 25 2015 – January 10 2016) packs the gallery with objects varying from valuable collectors’ pieces and handmade sculptures to readily available high street items. All part of Derbyshire’s ongoing investigation of taste, politics, economics and design.

Alongside,  (until April 17 2016) showcases a decade of digital artworks by the Manchester-based artist referencing popular culture.

In their Design Gallery, (December 4 - January 15) highlights over 100 examples of impeccable Japanese design, with pieces spanning the past 50 years and including fashion, ceramics, furniture, lighting, jewellery and metalwork.

A healthy stroll down Oxford Road will take you to Manchester Museum where  (until December 31) features swarms of the African artist’s multicoloured ‘butterflies’ interacting with the Museum’s collections in the Living Worlds Gallery.

While you're there don't forget to catch (until April 17 2016).

And then just a little further down the road, at The Whitworth, there’s lots more to see. Bedwyr Williams invites you to join him for  (until January 10 2016), which is best described as a journey through amateur space exploration with the help of sound and light - and lots of seemingly random stuff.

There’s also the meditative, photorealistic drawings of  (until January 3 2016) and the wonderful exploration of the colour green and environmental issues in (until January 31 2016).

(until January 31 2016)
is the major new exhibition for Autumn/Winter 2015-16, and it celebrates the unique relationship between the Whitworth’s fine art and internationally significant textiles collections by looking at how textiles are playing an increasingly central role in contemporary art practice.

And, not to be missed,  (until January 10) examines how the British landscape provided inspiration for abstract artists working in the 50s and 60s, and features work from the likes of Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon and Gillian Ayres.

While you're in the vicinity the Gallery of Costume, part of Manchester Art Gallery but as ever based at Platt Hall in Rusholme,  (ongoing until October 9 2016) showcases the bold, blingy but elegant creations of the Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli.

Back in the heart of the metropolis at Manchester’s newest art centre, HOME, there is plenty of visual art sandwiched between all of the films and performance offerings. Among them, (November 13 2015 – January 10 2016) features the hyper-realistic, reimagined and very 1980s style posters inspired by late 20th century classics like Alien, Blade Runner, The Thing, Total Recall, Mad Max 2, An American Werewolf in London and Terminator 2, with further new additions to be announced.

a detail of a photo by Elle Brotherhood of a woman in a blue dress and bangles with superimposed white triangles
Elle Brotherhood at HOME© Elle Brotherhood
Photography is also the focus for  (November 13 2015 – January 10 2016) featuring the dramatic creations of Elle Brotherhood while (November 14 2015 - January 3 2016) takes the eponymous Todd Haynes film about an extreme allergy sufferer as the jumping off point for a series of new commissions in moving image, sculpture, print, writing and performance.

In the Northern Quarter, the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art has (until December 6 2015) which showcases a quarter of a century of video works from the UK, China and Hong Kong and draws comparisons between the identity and culture of China and the UK.

Down by the docks IWM North has (until February 1 2016) which uses photography to reveal the forgotten histories of service personnel and civilians who came to Britain as workers, soldiers and refugees during the Second World War.

Across the Ship Canal at The Lowry (November 14 – February 28) is an immersive selection of digital art which the gallery promises will “challenge audiences’ understanding of what art can be”. More immersive digital art can be found outside the gallery as (December 12 - 27) sees three major illumination installations fill The Quays' public spaces in a magical digital light festival.

Not so far away at Castlefield Gallery, (December 4 - January 31) coincides with the centenary of Roland Barthes’ birth and sees artist Magnus Quaife re-examine the French philosopher and literary theorist’s lasting influence. 


Daniel Spoerri, Shower 1961: A photo of a landscape oil painting on canvas, with a shower head, hose and fitting attached to it
Daniel Spoerri, born 1930 Shower 1961, at Tate Liverpool© ADAGP. Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Migeat

A major exhibition examining the way social media has changed how we perceive fame goes on show at FACT. (December 11 - February 21) explores the idea of image and identity as a commodity that can be bought and sold, and asks whether this shift towards digital fame really brings us closer to our idols.

FACT has always pushed the boundaries in their quest to bring people, art and technology together and their  (until December 31, 2017) is a 4-metre long bespoke box fitted with 12 piezo microphones that pick up vibrations made when coins touch the wooden surface.

These sounds are then fed through a mixing desk installed inside the box and heard through directional speakers located close by.

By contrast The Lady Lever is the apposite setting for  (until February 28 2016) in which dazzling 1930s evening gowns take centre stage to reveal how the glamour of Hollywood was reflected in the fashions of the period.

Tate Liverpool's big winter show is (November 20 2015 – February 14 2016) which begins with the premise: “You’ve arrived at Tate Liverpool in the future. All of the works of art on display are about to disappear, forever. Which works of art do you want to know by heart, committing them to memory so that your favourite piece lives on?”.

Regardless of how far you go with this invitation to play, your visit will be rewarded with over sixty major works of post 1945 art from the Pompidou, Tate and MMK collections.

a photo of a silhouetted figure standing before a roaring fire. Bill Viola Fire Woman
Bill Viola, Fire Woman (2005)© the artist
If you’re visiting Yorkshire Sculpture Park this autumn there’s still time to catch (until January 1 2016) and the Yorkshire stint of  (until January 10 2016), the iconic poppy installation that began its life at the Tower of London for the First World War Centenary.

As the folds of winter really begin to envelop the park you may want to head inside for  and his slow-mo film sculptures, which have taken up residence in YSP’s Underground Gallery and Chapel (until April 4 2016) highlighting the last 20 years of Viola’s career together with a new work. In the YSP Centre,  (November 14 2015 – February 28 2016) is a vintage inspired graphic art homage to the independent trader.

Heading back into the city, Leeds Art Gallery is giving most of its galleries over to British Art Show 8 (until January 10 2016) for the first stop of the ambitious group exhibition providing a vital overview of the most exciting contemporary art produced in the UK now. Forty two artists are featured, making it the most ambitious British Art Show to date.

The gallery also has (until March 1 2016), in the Sculpture Study Galleries, which takes a look at a pivotal decade of large scale architectural commissions taken on by the Titan of British sculpture.

Leeds City Museum explores the importance of tailoring in  (until January 3 2016) while the Henry Moore has an intriguing investigation of educational specimen boxes in  (until January 3 2016) which is the first large scale exploration of the 19th century object boxes filled with manufactured products that aimed to educate the population, reframe sculpture as a didactic instrument for a mass audience. These fascinating mini displays also influenced the ways in which sculpture was taught, collected and displayed for the rest of the century.

Over in Bradford at the National Media Museum (November 19 20145 – February 7 2016) explores some of the first and rarest examples of scientific photography from the 1840s onwards.

The Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate has (until February 7), a major exhibition of work by painter Sonia Lawson. The exhibition features pieces spanning five decades, exploring the themes she's embraced through her expansive career.

a photo of a prone metal figure reading a book
Enrico David, Life Sentences (detail), 2014. Bronze. From an edition of 5 + 2 Aps. © Courtesy of Michael Werner Gallery, New York and London
At The Hepworth in Wakefield,  (November 13 2015 – February 14 2016) is a retrospective of the little known sculptural works of the highly acclaimed printmaker who died in 1983.

Alongside,  (November 13 2015 – February 14 2016) explores the sculptural, textile installations of a ‘contemporary surrealist’.

There’s also a brace of focusing on the last decade of her life from 1965 – 1975 and her casts and copies (until April 1 2016).

Heading back in to the countryside, at Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, (until January 3 2016) looks at how the Brontë clan were captivated by the Napoleonic wars and how it impacted on their works.

If you fancy a trip to the coast there’s an interesting show at Scarborough Art Gallery whose (until January 3 2016) explores an artist whose work travelled a path between Impressionist maritime imagery to vibrant Art Deco travel posters.

Down in South Yorkshire there’s a feast of art in Sheffield as venues across the steel city partner with major European art collectors for a programme of world class exhibitions and unique events under the moniker Going Public: International Art Collectors in Sheffield (until December 12)

For their part The Millennium Gallery hosts a range of works from the Nicolas Cattelain Collection by artists including Sol LeWitt, Do Ho Suh, Dan Flavin, Anthony McCall together with rarely-seen works and archival material by Marcel Duchamp and his circle.

Elsewhere in the city installations by Jake and Dinos Chapman, Maurizio Cattelan, Fiona Tan, among other leading contemporary artists, can be seen at Sheffield Cathedral.

Site Gallery and Sheffield Hallam University's SIA Gallery has an exhibition of work by leading contemporary Cantonese artists drawn from dslcollection exploring how artists have been influenced by the legacy of the province and its rapid urbanisation over the last 20 years.

Elsewhere at The Graves (until January 30 2016) explores the relationship between Walter Sickert and his wife Therese Lessore who he married in 1926.

There’s also an intriguing investigation of the myths of Ancient Egypt at Weston Park whose  (until April 10 2016) explores objects spanning 4,000 years to unearth the truth buried beneath popular myths surrounding one of the world’s greatest ancient civilisations.

North East

a photo of various glass jars containing specimens part of Fiona Tan's
From Fiona Tan's Vessel at BALTIC © Fiona Tan
The Laing is exploring death.  (until February 28 2016) contemplates the complexities of loss, grief and bereavement through photography manipulated and obscured through shifting light sources.

For some light relief  (until January 31 2016) is Compton Verney's touring exhibition tracing the origins and legacy of the Arts and Crafts Movement and its fascination with the creation of the home.

Alongside,  (until January 31 2016) presents artworks based on accounts of women (including Hagan) closely involved with a Mexican Mafia hitman currently on death row in San Quentin.

At BALTIC a packed autumn and winter programme offers the opportunity to see a range of exhibitions, including installations from  (until January 10 2016) and the oversized cartoony sculptures of and everyday material sculptures of (both November 20 2015 – February 28 2016).

The Centre for Life is also worth checking out this autumn for a brace of shows. Astronauts (until January 3 2016) explores life as an astronaut from training, and launch to return to Earth while  (until January 3 2016) celebrates the vibrant history, culture and future of gaming entertainment and technology through more than 100 playable games.

On Wearside Sunderland’s Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art has a resolutely arty affair called  (until February 20 2016) a group show that, among many other things, will offer “a polyphonic history of the space” and “counter the typical neutrality afforded white cube art galleries, excavating personal, as well as social narratives”.

Over at The National Glass Centre a busy autumn programme includes Museum of Glass (until August 31 2016) which explores the world renowned collection of The Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington.

Meanwhile, Drawing – An expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence (until March 13 2016) explores work by artists who draw using glass and ceramics, and a display of work by (until January 10) combines architecture and digital technology to discover domestic and urban environments through emotional sculpture and installations.

Neil Bousfield, Longshore Drifting, a woodcut of a figure walking a dog beneath a sea wall and across beaches with wooden breakwaters
Neil Bousfield, Longshore Drifting - part of the New Light Prize exhibition at The Bowes© Neil Bousfield
The Bowes Museum has the  (until February 7 2016) the UK's largest open prize dedicated to art from northern England with a selection of 84 artworks from 61 different artists.

There’s also the Artist Rooms tour, which delivers the portraits of  (November 28 – April 24 2016) and the characterful and sometimes craggy fizzogs of people like Iggy Pop, Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as Mapplethorpe’s close companion, singer and poet, Patti Smith.

Ever visited Durham University’s Oriental Museum (until December 17) is a tempting exhibition of new pottery inspired by the museum’s impressive ceramic collections, which range in date from the Stone Age to the present day and include important pieces from China, Korea, Japan and countries across Southeast Asia.

At MIMA in Boro they’re trying a new approach to exhibition curation with a show called Localism (until February 7 2016) an ambitious project attempting to tell the story of art in Middlesbrough from its “beginnings in 1829” to now.

The public is invited to help write the narrative with workshops that grow the show, adding to it as they go, thus creating an encyclopaedic family tree of creativity on Teesside. If you’re local – get involved at www.visitmima.com/whats-on/single/localism/

Alongside, the gallery showcases the work of Northern Art Prize winner and founder member of the London Women’s Liberation Art Group, Margaret Harrison. Accumulations (until January 24 2016) is a survey of her output from the 1980s to the present day focusing on protest, with her latest work engaging with notions of political antagonism.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Explore more guides to the best art exhibitions of 2015:

The best art exhibitions to see in London

The best art exhibitions to see in the South East

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