All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: Jeremy Deller at Manchester Art Gallery

Desmond Bullen

The Industrial Revolution may have occurred 150 years ago, but its influence lingers on – in music, art and popular culture – as the premiere of Jeremy Deller’s new show reveals.

It is hard to think about Jeremy Deller without thinking about pop. The Turner prize-winning artist seems to embody the precisely moment in 1982 where three minutes of artifice and artlessness made perfect sense, whether seen through the smirk of Smash Hits or the dissection of the New Musical Express. He’s pop in an imprecise sense too: Black Box Recorder raising an eyebrow at Up Town Top Ranking, Anthony Wilson without a television show, Brian Eno, before and after science.

Precisely, he is imprecise. If Damien Hirst is forever hobnobbing at The Groucho Club with Keith Allen in nineteen ninety whatever, if Andy Warhol is eternally reflecting Edie Sedgwick’s emptiness in 1967, then Deller is everywhere and nowhere. He is as much the zeitgeist as Adam Curtis, and as adrift from these times as The Man Who Fell To Earth. Curiously, Deller seems unencumbered by irony. Perhaps, because his curiosity is unfeigned. Joy In People was less a retrospective than a manifesto.

The exhibition encapsulates Deller’s aesthetic; to create and curate moments

But Deller is as undaunted by manifestos as any art school pop star, as unembarrassed by them as Marx and Engels (the political philosophers, rather than the song by Belle and Sebastian, although with Deller, it could as readily be either or both). The title of his current exhibition which tours the post-industrial cities of post-punk England, derives from The Communist Manifesto. All That Is Solid Melts Into Air which opens at Manchester Art Gallery next month, is a poetic evocation of Free Trade’s entropic effect upon meaning and an encapsulation of Deller’s aesthetic; to create – and curate – moments.

All That Is Solid toys with the effect of the Industrial Revolution on popular culture as though the two were more separable than conjoined twins. It is an endeavour especially apt in the Manchester of Engels and Procession. Amidst the tainted glitter of glam rock and the never-fashionable racket of heavy metal, lipstick will be traced between such half-remembered artists as John Martin and James Sharples. The former conceived an Apocalypse (just as his brother, who set fire to York Minster, enacted one); the latter, a blacksmith by trade, portrayed the heat of The Forge, in paints that he traipsed to Manchester to buy. Deller infects us with his joy in these singular individuals, a joy made bittersweet by its transience; precisely as short as a pop song, imprecisely as lasting as time. Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, M2 3JL, 10am-5pm Mon-Sun (until 9pm Thu), all weekend (Saturday 12 Oct-19 Jan 2014), free.

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