Treasures from under the sea go on show

A spectacular exhibition combining historic and contemporary art, new commissions and natural history specimens is to feature at Manchester Museum.

Coral: Something Rich and Strange explores the enduring fascination with coral as a material and inspiration for artists, cultures and societies, from antiquity to the present day.

The displays will include fascinating and beautiful objects, telling a story about biodiversity and the importance of marine environments and bringing to our attention coral’s fascinating natural, scientific characteristics; the diversity of its shapes and patterns; its uses in different cultures and contexts; and the urgency of marine habitat protection.

Natural history specimens from the Museum’s zoology collection, fossils, glass models of marine invertebrates, and scientific illustrations will be seen alongside cultural artefacts such as charms, talismans, funerary objects, rosaries, netsuke and jewellery ‘curiosities’. 

Paintings, prints, textiles and objects from the collections  of Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery and the V&A will also be on display alongside artworks from 15  national and 3 international institutions.

The exhibition will also include commissions of new works from the internationally renowned artist Mark Dion and the Lancashire-based textile artist Karen Casper, as well as a large-scale community engagement project, Manchester’s very own Crochet Coral Reef.

A beautifully illustrated book, Coral: Something Rich and Strange, accompanies the exhibition, containing an essay on coral in art and nature, an interview with the artist Gemma Anderson and several object stories by experts from different disciplines, ranging from art history and archaeology to history of science and biology, published by Liverpool University Press.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Marion Endt-Jones, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History and Visual Studies, University of Manchester.  She explained how the exhibition is the culmination of a three year project:  “Manchester Museum, as a multi-disciplinary university museum, presented itself as an ideal venue for giving a public outlet to my research on the cultural history of coral as an organism, material and symbol. The exhibition hopes to illustrate what rich and diverse cultural tradition we put at risk by polluting, overfishing and acidifying the world’s oceans.”

 Dr Nick Merriman, Director of Manchester Museum said: “According to a recent authoritative report, half of the world's coral reefs have been destroyed in the last 30 years, and if we do not take action immediately to reverse this decline, we will see all of them disappear before the end of the century. This exhibition is timely by showing the beauty of coral, both in nature and in the ways it has been used artistically, and what we risk losing if we stand by while it is destroyed”.

Notes for editors

Coral: Something Rich and Strange (#MMCoral), supported by Arts Council England and The Granada Foundation, runs from 29 November 2013 to 16 March 2014.

For media enquries contact:
Rachel Fitzgerald
Press Officer at Manchester Museum
0161 275 8786