City of monuments
Manchester International: 60s Modernist Architecture in Manchester At the Cube Gallery, 113-115 Portland Street, Manchester, until 4 July Myths live long in the popular memory and for many people the buildings of the 1960s remain the hardest to love. The show at Manchester's Cube Gallery goes some way to counter this by looking at the work of practices such as Leach, Rhodes and Walker, Crucikshank and Seward, Seifert, Spence and others in Manchester.
It is composed of large, newly commissioned photographs that, though they drip with colour, still lack the edge of the 1960s style they seem to be emulating. These are supplemented by models of key buildings, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, an old documentary and a brochure, placed in the centre of the entrance space like some holy relic in a museum.
This brochure introduces the story well, for here is the megastructure of Piccadilly Plaza, now disfigured and unbalanced, shown in an artist's impression of Manchester in the 1960s.
Though the picture does not quite omit Manchester's Victorian heritage, it nonetheless makes Waterhouse's town hall look small and perfunctory in comparison. Manchester is a city of monuments and some of the greatest of these certainly date from the 1960s.
But although the show tries to give a sense of Manchester's past, it never engages with any specifics. The principle of selection is hard to discover - why these buildings and not others? The accompanying notes (with many errors) give little clue.
Why refer to Stockwell Bus Garage as an influence on Taylor and Young's 1960 factory in Denton when Wythenshawe, which precedes it, was down the road? Why the failure to develop a debate about the current condition of many of these 1960s icons? There seems little passion about this show despite the plight of its subjects, only nostalgia for things going, going - oh dear, it's gone!
The concept of 'international' is downgraded, downplayed and, most astonishingly, depoliticised. Perversely, it seems more to do with international finance, air travel (so where's the airport? ) and electrification of the railway.
Though now a distant memory, the 1986 exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery, '1966 and all that', gave a more balanced view that at least acknowledged public housing and, indeed, the public sector generally - Hulme, Fort Ardwick and so on. This seems to be a show where all the invited guests are heroes: a vision of an impossibly beautiful past that did not include housing and forgets the wholescale losses and major alterations.
This is history as image.
Ultimately, the show reflects the present as much as the past - the developers' heaven where anything, especially the past, goes in the name of regeneration. This missed opportunity really should make us sit up and think where we are - but we'd need to know more accurately where we were to begin with.
Julian Holder is co-ordinator of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies at Edinburgh College of Art