Gallery director Alistair Hudson’s Bookshelf contains an alternative cookbook and Peter Saville

Currently the director of the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery, Alistair Hudson’s selections combine knowledge with sentimentality.

11 March 2020


Books are vital to many people’s roles and practices, however, for those working in the theoretical and participatory aspects of the arts, they arguably gain even more importance. Prior to his current role, Alistair Hudson was director of Middlesborough Insititute of Modern Art and also deputy director of Grizedale Arts – an organisation renowned for its practical approach to creating useful art.

An expert in what art could or should be, Alistair has previously given a TED talk on “Why art is useful.” It is probably unsurprising then that he considers books central to what he does, describing them as “the physical embodiment of a life being lived and learned” – which we think is a rather lovely way of putting it. He has ultimately chosen this selection because these publications have shaped his “thinking” and his “decisions,” as well as all being tied together with a hint of sentimentality.

Richard Hamilton: Catalogue for the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 1993

I started my art career proper at the Venice Biennale working on the setup and day-to-day running of the British Pavilion. That year our representative in the “Art Olympics” was Richard Hamilton, whom I had studied as a specialism at college. My professor there, Sarat Maharaj, was inspirational in showing that you could be mischievous and subversive, political and playful with art history and that to do things this way was almost an intellectual imperative. He created the catalogue with the artist and typographer Gordon House as a sort of piss-take company report in a dig at post-Thatcherite Britain. An era that very much determined where we are today.

Stephen Wright: Toward a Lexicon of Usership

The Lexicon is a manual for another way of thinking about art, moving us away from those old-fashioned ideas of art we still live with, like modernity and the contemporary. Simple to use and very readable, it has Emergent Concepts (such as “Museum 3.0”) in green, Modes of Usership (such as “Hacking”) in blue and Conceptual Institutions to be Retired (such as “Authorship”) in red. It was published by our colleagues at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven as part of the exhibition the Museum of Arte Útil in 2013. The biggest influence it had on me was the suggestion that we no longer have to think about whether something is art or not, but to what degree something can be art. I recently did a workshop with Stephen and some mathematicians on the Coefficient of Art for the Chicago Architecture Biennial. The relevant page in my copy is heavily scribbled on and was subsequently published as a contribution to Ryan Gander’s Annotated Reader.

Peter Saville: Estate 1-127 – Migros Museum for Gegenwartkunst Zurich

For pretentious suburban teenagers growing up in and around Manchester in the 80s, the Factory and the Hacienda were our art school. It was an aesthetic regime that was created in response to a miserable city. Now I’m back in Manchester, the city has lost its miserableness and evolved a new shiny aesthetic – and other forms of misery. On returning to Manchester a couple of years ago, I struck up a conversation with Peter Saville about how to best tell an accurate story of this movement, against the rising tide of male middle-aged nostalgia. We agreed that the thing people keep missing is the Factory was a visual literacy project, a situationist education for all, about how to make your way in the world in the knowledge that the future was image-centric. Like all the best art movements it was political.

What’s the Use? Constellations of Art, History and Knowledge, a Critical Reader

For the last seven years or so, I have found the most stimulating discussion through our colleagues in the L’internationale confederation, a network of what I would call the smart, bright museums in the top left-hand corner of Eurasia. Through these conversations and projects, a lot of generative ideas have come to the fore, to do with how art, museums and politics might work in the future. In the process, we have produced a series of fat, well-designed books that bring together different people and different voices. I regularly use these books as a reference point, to connect with opinions that affirm and challenge my own, especially now the cultural ropes that tethered us to the mainland have been cut – or at least a bit stringy and frayed.

The New Mechanics, a Collaborative Collection of Recipes from Grizedale Arts and Coniston Youth Club

This is the newest book on the shelf, just hot off the press. I was deputy director at Grizedale, in the beautifully complex fuck-up that is the Lake District, for ten years of my life and it was a creative blast. Underpinning it though was a serious mission to re-establish art as a process working at all levels of life. The book Adding Complexity to Confusion tells this story, and is probably the most readable and funny art book ever made, but this one really shows this process at work. It is a collection of recipes devised over the years with Coniston Youth Club at the village Mechanics Institute – the village hall/art centre fashioned by John Ruskin in the 1870s. The book was originally funded by the Lake District National Park Authority, but it withdrew the money when it realised its content was less than acceptable to the average middle-Englander tourist. The not-vegetarian sections with various vermin are probably what did it, though the use of Japanese Knotweed wasn’t very romantic idyll either. But if you’re squeamish about wild food, the Gnocchi are very good.

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About the Author

Charlie Filmer-Court

Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.

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