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Art world's shock at death of rising star from Widnes

Gallery director Michael Stanley found hanged

Written by . Published on September 29th 2012.

Art world's shock at death of rising star from Widnes

The art world has been stunned by the sudden death of one of its rising stars, 37-year-old Michael Stanley from Widnes. 

Reports say he was found hanged in the garden of a house in Oxford. Police say there are no suspicious circumstances. 

As well as being curator and director of the Gallery of Modern Art in Oxford, the father-of-three was a judge of the Turner Prize which is due to be announced next week. 

He went to school in Widnes before winning a scholarship to study at the Ruskin School of Drawing in Oxford. 

An inquest has been opened in Oxford and adjourned so a full hearing can be held. 

Today Michael's family were said to be devastated and struggling to come to terms with the loss. 

Denise Hartley from Widnes, a good friend of Michael's parents, Janet and Eric Stanley, said: “I’d known Michael since he was born. He was so clever, and even at a young age he was drawing and painting. He was quiet but very popular. 

“His parents were so proud of him. He achieved so much. It is such a waste of a life.” 

Mrs Hartley, from Widnes, where Michael grew up, added she spoke to his parents, who now live in Leyburn, north Yorkshire. 

“I called his mum and she was very quiet,” she said. “She just wanted to talk about the old times. We shared memories of him and reminisced.” 

Michael 's body was discovered in the back garden of a friend’s house in Oxford on Friday. 

He had been to several meetings and was at an exhibition opening a day earlier, and was said to be subdued. 


At the time of his death, Michael was house-sitting for a colleague who was on holiday in Spain. 

Tributes from the art world have been pouring in for the man described as "enormously talented" and "hugely ambitious and successful". 

Friend Tom Trevor said he was in a meeting with him the day before he was found dead. He said: “Mike seemed OK but he was a little bit closed. 

“He didn’t look low, but he was a complex character, he was an artist.” 

Mr Trevor, director of the Arnolfini arts centre in Bristol, added: “I am deeply shocked and terribly sad. Mike was an incredibly ambitious and talented curator. 

“He was driven, he had a mission and he was delivering. To discover he had this vulnerability is a shock to us all.”

Michael was responsible for curating exhibitions by artists including Susan Philipsz, Thomas Houseago and more recently Jenny Saville, who had her first UK museum exhibition at Modern Art Oxford.

She wrote that he “was the kind of gallery director you wanted to work with”.

Tate director Nicholas Serota said Michael had "enormous talent, imagination and dedication to art and artists".

“He was much admired and loved by artists, who responded to his warmth and conviction. His early death is a great loss to Oxford, to the audiences he served and to the whole art world."

A book of condolence has been opened here.

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