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Wallpapers began arriving at the Whitworth in 1967 and today we house a collection of around 10,000 examples. Some of these are luxurious, beautiful, old and hand printed, but most are the cheap and cheerful output of factories that gave remnants to museums after ceasing production.
Until now we haven’t recorded the stories provoked by these patterns. In its heyday wallpaper saw inside it all:
Law courts, pubs, manor houses, council flats, shopping, fights, meals, politics, parties, loneliness, housework, laughter, desire, bath-time, DIY, play, music, addiction, television, pets, rest, illness, fear, hunger, mess, grief, excess, prayer, death, boredom, and joy all muddied our views of the wallpaper. If we continue to clear these chaotic lives and losses out of the way, as museum practice is inclined to do, we lose the chance to tap into the democratic potential of a decorative surface that was in every type of interior.
Framed by living memory, the exhibition evokes a time from World War II through to the gradual removal of wallpaper from homes in the 1990s. The two local photography series (June Street in Salford and Hulme Crescents) show housing that has been demolished entirely. Whether we were around in this time or not, they are foundational scenes of gendered, racialised, class, and culture-driven experiences in the United Kingdom.
Open House is expanding into the room next door through 2022-23, including drop-ins, a reading group, volunteer opportunities, and celebrations. The wallpapers, photographs, and artworks in the exhibition will be added to by photographs, conversations, mementos, or anecdotes you would like to share.
Who and what is missing?
Open House is a project that connects life lived in front of the wallpaper with the 10,000 wall coverings looked after at the Whitworth. From April 2022 to February 2023, we are holding a series of events to help launch the project, hear your stories, gather photographs, and help strengthen these connections.
26 November 2021 – 26 February 2023
The Open House collection research project has been developed with the generous support of Arts Council England’s Designation Development Fund.
The exhibition has been made possible through Art Fund Respond and Reimagine.
Image: Neil Kenlock, Untitled, [Young boy by telephone, in South London], 1972-74
Copyright the artist, courtesy of the artist.