For students and locals alike, the Portico is one of Manchester’s best kept secrets. We all know John Rylands, most of us will have been to Manchester Central Library, fewer still have made the pilgrimage to Old John Rylands but the city’s real hidden gem lies behind a congruous black door on Charlotte Street. Boasting an impressive list of celebrity patrons, the library is housed in a classical early Victorian building. The main collection sits under an impressive stained glass dome giving the whole space a truly historic air. It is fitting then that the Library is currently playing host to a show dedicated to the darker side of Victorian culture. Curated by Manchester art historians Porter and Jenkinson, the exhibition features both paintings and sculpture dedicated to the curious and the macabre and attempts to bring back the ethos behind the Victorian Dark Societies (according to the poster). In reality this show presents a kitsch, Disneyfied version of Victorian sensibilities. Pieces of note are Family Tree by Lucy Freegard and the excellent hand etched glass vials. Less appealing were the punters who took it upon themselves to dress up as Victorians for the occasion, looking more like Affleck’s Palace rejects than Bazalgette or Brunel, this gothic pretension defined the tone of the evening. It was fun, I would recommend it to anyone with a mind for Manchester’s architecture and anyone with a passing interest in Victorian sensibilities. Just don’t expect too much meaning behind what you see.

by Jack Lewis Barclay

[Curious Pursuits runs until 29th February]

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