Thursday 12 February 2015 marks the start of a major 16-month long contemporary art programme at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery.
The programme features commissions from some of the most exciting contemporary artists working today and group/solo exhibitions from emerging and renowned UK and international artists and the Contemporary Art Society Annual Award winning commission by Nathaniel Mellors.
Curated under the overarching title and Samuel Beckett  quote, Dance First, Think Later, the programme’s key leitmotifs explore notions of performativity and the human condition; tragi-comedy and absurdity.
Artists producing new work have been invited to reference or respond to the Harris’ collections, the gallery’s striking Grade 1 listed building or the wider city of Preston as a starting point, whilst developing work that has national and international resonance.
Dance First, Think Later, and the associated Sparks Youth Engagement and Talent Development Programme for emerging artists, are supported by Arts Council England, Contemporary Art Society, Lancashire County Council, Friends of the Harris Museum & Art Gallery, The Foyle Foundation,
Garfield Weston Foundation, the Granada Foundation, Creative Lancashire, Jacana Care Trust, Duchy of Lancaster Benevolent Fund and the
Brian Mercer Charitable Trust.
Image: Harold Offeh, High Bar, 2015. Courtesy of the artist
12 February - 11 April 2015
Artists featured: Harold Offeh with Jonathan Baldock, Mark Bleakley, Andrea Booker, Stuart Edmundson, David Mackintosh, Mexico (Simon Boase, James Maxfield, Zoe Sawyer), Erkka Nissinen, Florence Peake and Sean Penlington.
The programme opens with The Varieties, co-curated by Clarissa Corfe and Harold Offeh. The exhibition and performance programme draws on interests inherent in Offeh’s practice as well as referencing the 20th century Preston clown, acrobat and filmmaker Will Onda.
The exhibition evokes and plays with conventions of 19th and 20th century variety theatre and music hall. Offeh’s work, exploring notions of performance, identity, futurism and collaboration, and the multiple identities of the Preston impresario, Will Onda, combine to inform the starting point for this exhibition.
Approached as a deconstructed mise-en-scène or stage-set, Offeh’s sculptures - including a platform/stage, door frame, and high bar - expand notions of sculpture, prop and performance. They are assembled in dialogue with the participating artists’ works that range from painting and performance, to film and sculpture, as well as recontextualised objects from the Harris’ social history collection.
Interested in the tradition of learning and practice, Offeh instigated workshops with young people from Preston, employing notions of performance and collaboration and engaging with the legacy and history of Onda and his multiple roles. Workshops, including one run by clown and physical comedy performer Alice Robinson (Clown Lab), were filmed to be incorporated into a film work by Offeh.
The exhibition is accompanied by a contemporary art variety show on 28 March including performances and presentations by Mark Bleakley, Harold Offeh, Mexico (Simon Boase, James Maxfield, Zoe Sawyer), Florence Peake, Gavin Wade, Clarissa Corfe and a high-bar gymnast.
Clarissa Corfe, co-curator of the exhibition said:
“Offeh is an artist of international renown and his work is rooted within a strong tradition of performance, video and collaboration exploring notions of identity, futurism, learning, absurdity and the comic. His eclectic and fluid practice inspired me to invite him to co-curate this exhibition with me that would use something of the history of Preston as a starting point.
The exhibition brings together the work of nine other national and international artists in a show that turns traditional methods of curation on their head.”
Image: Sean Penlington, Problem Painting #2, 2014. Photogrpah courtesy of Rebecca Lennon, the artist and International 3.
2 May – 4 July 2015
This solo exhibition by Lucy Beech includes her most extended film work to date. Loosely based on real events, Beech constructs an interpersonal drama that follows a female undertaker as she negotiates her way through the changing landscape of the traditional funeral business, as well as her experience as a woman among women.
There will be a specially commissioned, site specific performance by Lucy Beech and Edward Thomasson to accompany the exhibition.
Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, with the support of Harris Museum & Art Gallery, The Tetley, The Fenton Trust, The Elephant Trust and University of East London, School of Arts and Digital Industries.
With thanks to Open School East. Film and Video Umbrella is supported by Arts Council England.
Image: Lucy Beech, Untitled, Film still, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.
2 May – 4 July 2015
This group exhibition will use the work, Oculist Witnesses by Richard Hamilton, 1966, (acc. no. L.1976.1) loaned from The Whitworth Art Gallery, as a starting point.
Looking at notions of ‘coming into existence’ this exhibition will include works by regional and national artists in mediums of painting, sculpture and installation.
Image: Richard Hamilton, Oculist Witnesses, Screenprint, 1966 (L.1976.1) Courtesy of the Whitworth
Art From Elsewhere
10 October – 28 November 2015
An exhibition of major international works recently collected by six museums across the UK, curated by David Elliott.
Key artists include: Omer Fast, Yael Bartana, Shilpa Gupta, Kara Walker, Nancy Spero, Robert Smithson, Ana Mendieta, Carl Andre, Barbara Kruger, Emily Jacir, Thomas Demand, Beat Streuli, Yang Zhenzhong, Aleksandra Mir, Jitish Kallat, Romauld Hazoume, among others.
The touring exhibition, which features 70 works by 39 artists from 22 countries, will adapt accordingly as it moves between each gallery and museum, drawing on works from – and highlighting – the five collections that have been built through Art Fund International, an innovative collecting initiative conceived and implemented from 2007.
Amongst the art collected, Elliott has discovered common themes that are explored by the artists selected for the Harris. Their works reflect on the realities of global change and post-colonial experiences, and also examine the question of failed utopias, proposing new ideas of exchange and value for the common good.
Nothing Happens, Twice: Artists Explore the Absurdity of Life
6 January – 4 June 2016
The programme closes in Spring 2016 with an exhibition that uses the Theatre of the Absurd and the work of Samuel Beckett as a starting point exploring notions of repetition, farce and tragi-comedy. Including new work, one will be Harris Museum’s latest commission and acquisition by Nathaniel Mellors with whom the Museum won the Contemporary Art Society Annual Award 2014.
 Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) Playwright, novelist, theatre director and poet most closely affiliated with the Theatre of the Absurd.
 Will Onda (1869–1949) Clown, acrobat, film maker and later became the mayor of Preston. Shooting over 100 film in Preston, the city was the most documented outside London in the UK.