Now in its tenth year, The Manchester Contemporary positions itself as the UK’s only invitation art fair for critically engaged contemporary art outside of London. With careful selection and bold curatorial vision, it showcases the strength of regional artists and galleries alongside key international presentations that can only be seen in Manchester. Northern Soul sat down with curator Nathaniel Pitt to find out what to expect from this year’s show (October 12-14) and to ask him for tips for budding collectors.

Northern Soul: Tell us about your background and your appointment to Manchester Art Fair [Manchester Contemporary runs alongside the Art Fair].

Nathaniel Pitt: I was an artist originally, but soon realised I liked showing other artists’ works and connecting people. My gallery is seven-years-old and I have been an exhibitor at Manchester Art Fair for the last six years.

NS: What can we expect from this year’s fair? How will it be different?

NP: Apart from the amazing UK galleries from London and Gateshead, we have a new list of international galleries, which is a big difference. This year we have galleries from Berlin, Paris, Palma, Dublin, Lisbon, Madrid and Caracus. We are also strengthening a roster of galleries working with artists whose paths to the art world or scene are alternative and wide reaching. We welcome Bethlem Gallery and Venture Arts. For the curators we also bring the best in artist-led practice from across the UK, from here in Manchester and Salford to Coventry and Stoke-on-Trent. 

NS: Are there any up-and-coming future stars we should start collecting?

NP: Many, many. Each gallery has an artist I would recommend. If you come and seek me out at the fair, I’d be happy to share my insight and my personal favourites. I have my eye on a painting of a brick.

Manchester Contemporary art fairNS: Will the event include any talks about collecting?

NP: Again, I’m on hand. Kate Jesson and others will be giving tours and generally open to conversations with new collectors or even if you are thinking you might want to start a journey in acquiring art, come and say hi.

NS: What advice would you offer a would-be collector?

NP: Always buy what speaks to you. Art is an odd commodity as in it isn’t one. It has no real or perceived use or value, making it a very personal thing.

I would say some of my best works in my own collection were ‘growers’. I bought them at the time knowing they were special but not understanding them or even liking the visual appeal. For me it’s about ideas and quality, for other collectors it’s about the artists, supporting a career – it’s fine to buy a piece just because you like it. Being a collector and learning about the production, the market and the artists can open up new horizons where art is truly a global activity and you can visit exhibitions, events, biennials all over the world and find familiar faces.

NS: What trends are you noticing in art in 2018/19? 

NP: In 2017, I curated two shows – Looking at People Looking at Art and Looking at Art Looking at People. Together with artist Mark Essen we identified the ongoing trend in ‘shoddy ceramics’ but what really fascinated me was why this came about. Trends do occur in art I’m sure, but I prefer to think of them as a knowledge exchange, usually among younger artists who talk and mingle together in non-institutional groups, in the pub, at private views, curating and self-organise their own shows. I think assemblage, dark irony might be in the mix this year given the last few years’ political events.

NS: Has art become more political in the light of Trump’s presidency and Brexit?

NP: Not sure it’s become more political, and there are some amazing artists at this fair dealing with politics, look out for Mark McGowan in Bethlem Gallery. Art is in itself political, it’s very hard to escape the environment in which artists are making work. For new visitors to the fair don’t expect a type of overt Banksy-style satire but ask a few questions of the gallerists and you might be surprised by some of the motivations behind many of the works on display.

NS: Has Manchester Art Fair done its job of being an ‘unrivalled incubator of artist talent’?

NP: Yes, and we continue to do so – the artist-led projects and new galleries are in an equal footing with both established progressive galleries like Arcade, the radical international galleries like Grim Museum and the non-profit galleries like Platform A and IMT. Artists can cut their teeth with Manchester University and Salford Alumni, but feature heavily in the younger artist-led spaces also. The fair is also very collegiate and forgiving, less austere than some of the mega fairs.

Manchester Contemporary art fairNS: Do we need more of these contemporary art events in the North?

NP: Always, and in Wales, the Midlands and South West. I’d like to see the market growing and encourage new collectors coming forward to help museums, artists, curators and fabricators, to provide a whole ecology.

NS: If you could own one piece of art by a contemporary artist, what would it be and why?

NP: Tough question. I keep a top ten of artists for this period and that period, so it changes all the time. If we’re talking a living contemporary artist, right now I would like to own a work of art by Marcus Coates, Portrait As Worcester, although I probably shouldn’t say that as he is represented by Workplace Gallery.

By Rachael Richards


Pitt has chosen 34 of Europe’s most interesting contemporary galleries to feature at the show. Among those selected for the tenth edition are Grim Museum from Berlin, Kevin Kavanagh from Dublin and Lundgren Gallery from Majorca.

The Manchester Contemporary opens with a VIP Preview at 5pm on October 12 while public days take place on October 13 from 10am to 6pm and on October 14 from 10am to 5pm.

Weekend tickets are £5 each and VIP preview night tickets are £12. Tickets are available at