31 January – 27 September 2020

Utopia is, at its essence, about creating a perfect world, yet in this way, it is always in opposition with the present.

In 1516 Lawyer and Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More published Utopia – a book that gave name and form to an idea that captured the human imagination – that of aspiring to an ideal future and better society.

More conceived of an island community – independent, insular and able to prescribe its own ways of living. Yet at the root of More’s proposition for an ideal world is contradiction. The term utopia was taken from the Greek ou-topos meaning no place. A perfect nation can never be realised, because it is different for everybody – it is nowhere and yet everywhere.

This exhibition crosses genres, media and timeframes to provide a playful and provocative framework for probing how Britain’s literary and visual culture has perpetuated an idea of a utopian society that fosters nostalgic yearnings for a seemingly lost past.

Within the exhibition, Whitworth Young Contemporaries have created a space that uses the Whitworth’s collection to start a conversation on what utopian-thinking looks like for young people today.

Whitworth Young Contemporaries (WYC) is a group of young people who meet weekly to connect art, ideas and communities. You can follow the WYC on Instagram @whitworthyc


Caption: Map from Thomas More’s Utopia (1518), Courtesy the John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester


Further information:
  • Opening hours: daily 10.00 am-5.00 pm  (until 9pm on Thursday)
  • Location: The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6ER
  • Getting there: By foot: 20-30 minures from Manchester city centre; By Bike: Sheffield stands and lockers (£1 coin, refundable) both available at the gallery; By Bus: 15, 41, 42, 43, 140 – 143, 147 – ask for bus stop nearest MRI, Oxford Road; By Metrolink: St Peter’s Square (plus 10 minutes on the bus or 20 minutes on foot); Train: Oxford Road (plus 10 minutes on the bus or 20 minutes on foot); By Car: On-street parking (maximum stay, 2 hours) on Denmark Road. Nearest car park Cecil Street
  • Admission is free