It's one of those points in the year when, just like buses, all the art shows come along at once. Dark Matters just launched at the Whitworth (with pieces - from Bacon to Whiteread - exploring shadows and illusion, so I'll make it down Oxford Road at some point before 15 January), the same day Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer opened at Manchester Art Gallery until 29 January.
Much anticipated, this is the first major exhibition of the former Manchester-dweller's work, and it's definitely very comprehensive. I was treated to a tour by curator Julian Treuherz, who pointed out all the themes and styles and gave a potted background history of the paintings and painter. I found Brown's perspective somewhat naive and some of the colours rather on the kitsch side, but it wasn't not interesting and I did like the stained glass, the cartoons and the furniture he designed for William Morris. It's £8 or £6 concessions - head down on Tuesday 18 October, and you'll also get some poems about the show courtesy Jean Sprackland who has been specially commissioned by Manchester Literature Festival. See here for more on that.
On Saturday, Cornerhouse flung wide the doors to the first major public solo UK exhibition by one of the most prominent contemporary artists working in South Asia today, Rashid Rana. Everything Is Happening At Once is part of the Asia Triennial Manchester II festival, which is running concurrently across various venues in and around the city until 27 November.
Back to Rana, though, and I thoroughly recommend you catch this free show over all three of Cornerhouse's galleries (it goes beyond the festival to 18 December). Gallery 1 explores comparisons, and I was taken by the study of time versus space illustrated by The World Is Not Enough and Dis-location I, a pixellated image of a street scene made up by the mosaic of tiny snapshots of life in Lahore. Gallery 2 offers up some more controversial themes, from the blood and gore of the Rothko-like series What Lies Between Flesh And Blood to Veil VI, a collage of miniature jazz mag photos worked together to create a full-size piece and make a statement about the role of women in both Western and non-Western cultures. On the top floor, the montage of shop signs, ads and graffiti of Language Series II is almost Impressionistic in colour and abstractness, but the real treat in Gallery 3 is Desperately Seeking Paradise II (pictured). Approaching this huge, almost architectural, structure, you see yourself reflected in its mirrored surfaces, then as you move round the room it dominates, you can see behind the separate tiles and a whole new view becomes available - again from the small-scale images to the bigger picture: in this case a skyline not unlike a pre-9/11 New York, another political message, one presumes.