Category Archives: galleries

Farewell Grey Area

Rostan Tavasiev, Ghost (2008)

It is oft said things have to get worse before they can get better. And with news of this Friday’s vacation of Grea Area, the Brighton gallery scene couldn’t get much worse.

In the past, usually after one or two libations, I have opined that quality of life is already good enough here on the South coast. Limited art seems like a trade off for a vibrant music scene.

But enough is enough. The closure of Grey Area’s will perform a spleen-ectomy on a patient already weakened by loss of, perhaps, wisdom teeth with the recent closure of Permanent Gallery.

Another promising space closed last year. That was literally called A&E. We are left with a tatty heart (Phoenix), a distracted mind (Brighton Uni) and an echoing ribcage (Fabrica).

Some of the spirit of Grey Area should live on in nearby Mingus Calypso, perhaps a pineal gland. But the Neue Froth Kunsthalle, as it is also known, is in semi-legal possession of its premises.

Mingus has taken the bold move to begin acquiring a permanent collection. But without a permanent space, it should prove tricky for them to secure funding and higher profile shows.

No one ever died for want of an art gallery. But the same could be said of a football stadium. And look how councillors moved heaven and earth to secure funding and permission for the Brighton Amex.

Since there’s now a bit less to blog about, I hope you’ll forgive me for posting a handful of links to a few past shows. As can be seen, Grey Area was great. Let’s hope it’s back soon in some form.

Grey Area is having a closing bash this Friday. Details on ArtRabbit here.

Opposition to the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings

Pictured above is a view from upstairs at the brand new Jerwood Gallery in Hastings. If those fishing boats weren’t already picturesque enough, now they are framed.

At the foot of the shot is a yellow poster. And as you might know, there are several of these nearby, all voicing opposition to the new £4m gallery.

Fishermen, at least those in this town, do not want to share the beach with a first rate collection of modern and contemporary British art.

What they would prefer is a coach park, so that daytrippers can arrive by the busload and visit the old town for fish and chips. This is the town they want to see.

It cannot be denied that the new gallery changes the complexion of this part of the beach. So perhaps the neighbours are right to resist the gentrification.

They have the largest beach-launch fishing fleet in Europe and now their daily toil will become the charming and quaint view from this window.

As an art blogger from just down the road, clearly my vote goes to the gallery. We do not have a comparable space in Brighton, so Hastings is lucky.

But we don’t have a fishing fleet either. All that remains of that industry on our stretch of the coast is a beachfront museum. No, I haven’t been.

In a perfect world, thousands of art lovers would descend here every day and buy fish. Fishermen would pop round the gallery for some 20th century abstraction.

Is it really such a crazy dream? Many gallery visitors will cheerfully feast at the local chippies. But a “not for the likes of us” mentality may prevent reciprocal footfall.

But since lives are being risked daily to bring fish back from the English Channel, the maritime neighbours have the moral, if not the cultural, high ground. What’s to be done?

For more info about opposition to Jerwood on this stretch of beach, The Stade, visit the campaign website (features a 50 verse poem!). Read my review of the gallery on Culture24 here.

Adolf Krischanitz, Barhocker (1986)

With its dark, stained and somewhat splayed feet this stool looks solid enough. But it was still not clear that sitting there was permitted. It was, after all, part of an exhibition.

It had its own plaque on the wall and, indeed, I was reading the very details relating to this piece, when I turned and saw what first I took to be an astonishing sculpture.

Barhocker appeared to feature a hyper-realist old man with finely rendered grey hairs. It took a second to realise, this was in fact my gallery going companion.

My father accompanied me on a recent trip to Vienna. But he wasn’t much interested in the meta-discourse on white cube spaces at the city’s famous Secession gallery.

Instead he wanted to take the weight off his feet. And never mind the reference to Joseph Kosuth who is infamous for putting chairs into galleries.

“You can’t sit on the art!” I almost shouted, pointing out that particular chair was an idea rather than a piece of furniture.

Its designer is an Austrian architect who presumably made severeal Barhocker pieces to go with his rennovation of this world famous institution in 1986.

This stool would have been the perfect place to gaze at the newly restored columns in the Hauptraum. They were once again clad in chrome steel and brass.

Because in 1991, they were painted over for a show curated by Kosuth, whose best known work was a chair accompanied by a photo and a dictionary definition.

His was not the only conceptual piece from the 1960s to involve a chair. Had this been a reference to George Brecht’s Chair Events, sitting there would have been just dandy.

But that’s a lot of back story to explain to a weary relative why an inviting seat in a contemporary art show is probably a perverse conceit. It does sound foolish.

DIE FÜNFTE SÄULE was a group show at Secession between September 9 – November 20, 2011. See gallery website for more details.

A guide to art venues in South East England

With more than 300 museums in the South East, it is little surprise to find nearly a dozen major destinations for modern and contemporary art.

This guide, written for Culture24, takes you around the region from Bucks to Kent, where three exciting projects are due to come on line in the next couple of years. If you love visual art, it is the county to watch.

Milton Keynes Gallery

With an address like no other, the gallery at 900 Midsummer Boulevard brings 300m2 of exhibition space to this new town’s cultural quarter.

Milton Keynes Gallery opened in 1999 with a Gilbert and George show, drawing 23,000 visitors, and has since gone from strength to strength.

Leading international artists have continued to show their work in the building’s three galleries, with occasional with eye-catching wraps of the cube-like exterior.

Modern Art Oxford

While not as ancient as some institutions in the university city, Modern Art Oxford has been on the block longer than most other spaces for contemporary art.

Since 1965 it has built a national and international reputation for groundbreaking shows, from the likes of Joseph Beuys, Donald Judd and Marina Abramovich.

Meanwhile past directors include Sir Nicholas Serota, now in charge of the Tate. This fact might be one to throw into the conversation as you take tea in the vibrant yard.

Stanley Spencer Museum, Cookham, Berkshire

English painter Stanley Spencer had only been dead for three years when villagers in his native Cookham managed to open a memorial gallery in 1962.

It was Spencer who put the Berkshire village on the map when he painted the local dead returning to life in his sensational work of 1927, The Resurrection Cookham.

So the collection of more than 100 paintings and drawings has found a suitable home in a former Methodist chapel. It is staffed entirely by (living) volunteers.

ArtSway, New Forest, Hampshire

Visitors to the last three Venice Biennales may have been surprised to find a pavilion dedicateed to the New Forest in Hampshire.

But the National Park is firmly on the contemporary art map thanks to a purpose built gallery with links to the University of Bournemouth.

ArtSway holds eight or nine shows a year from the likes of Jordan Baseman and Gayle Chong Kwan. It also houses five studios and runs residencies.

Aspex, Portsmouth

Portsmouth’s leading contemporary art space would grace a city twice the size. Aspex has shown work by more than 1,000 emerging artists since 1981.

Local and international names also figure in the roster with five shows in the main gallery each year and a second fast-moving project space.

In 2006 Aspex moved to the Vulcan Building in Gunwharf Keys. The one-time naval storehouse is now an inspiring, if incongruous, setting for art.

John Hansard Gallery, Southampton

In 1980 the University of Southampton brought together a photographic gallery and a fine art gallery into one space in a former laboratory at its Highfield Campus.

A model for measuring tides in the nearby Solent.was ripped out and a programme designed to encourage academic and public debate was installed in its place. Publishing is also on the agenda at this Hampshire gallery.

Pallant House, Chichester

The decision to add a contemporary wing to a Grade I Queen Anne Town House was a controversial triumph in 2006. Pallant is now a successful mix of the new and old.

The £8.6 million project provides a new home for the gallery’s collection of modern art, which features work by Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield and Richard Hamilton.

Caulfield was also the subject of a touring exhibition. Other recent shows have included The Scottish Colourists and John Tunnard. Recommended.

Fabrica, Brighton

Upon closer inspection, a Regency church building in Brighton city centre reveals itself to be a dramatic, cavernous space for contemporary art.

There are four main shows each year and Fabrica champions site-specific crafts, large scale sculptures, lens based installations and interactive, digital media.

Artists working with the gallery are encouraged to push their boundaries. John Grade, Tina Gonzales and Brian Eno have all risen to the challenge in recent months.

Towner Gallery, Eastbourne

On the face of it, you would not expect to see work by the likes of Damien Hirst or Bill Viola in sleepy Eastbourne.

But thanks to a purpose built gallery at the bargain price of £8.5m the town is waking up to contemporary art. Since April 2009, Towner has welcomed almost 70,000 visitors.

The three-floor Rick Mathers building is now a South Downs landmark, a regional destination, and the last thing you’d expect to find in a seaside resort.

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea

Fans of architecture should also be delighted by the nearby De La Warr Pavilion. This is a modernist marvel by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Charnayeff.

Seventy years after completion, the building was renovated in 2005 at a cost of £8m, confirming its original purpose to bring culture and leisure to the people of Bexhill.

Half a million visitors a year now visit the Grade-I listed building, which Mendelsohn called a “horizontal skyscraper”. High quality exhibitions make for stunning interiors too.

Jerwood Gallery, Hastings

The Jerwood Foundation has an art collection in search of a permanent home and some say Hastings is in need of redevelopment. So the town should have a new gallery by June 2011.

The £4 million development on the Stade in Hastings Old Town is not without its critics. One survey found 82% of local fishermen opposed to it. One can only hope they will be charmed by the Foundation’s collection of Modern British painting.

Folkestone Triennial

For contemporary art of the public variety, Folkestone is the place to be. In 2008 the first Triennial invited a host of international names to respond to the locality.

Tacita Dean, Jeremy Deller and Mark Wallinger all took part. Tracey Emin’s work, Baby Things, remains on show as one of 8 permanent commissions.

22 artists will be invited to contribute to the second Triennial in 2011. At this rate the town will run out of display space.

Ebbsfleet Landmark Project

Several artists competed for the commission to design and build an ‘Angel of the South’ to rival Anthony Gormley’s statue outside Newcastle.

But it is Mark Wallinger who is busy on the public art project in nearby Ebbsfleet, where a 50m high white horse will become one of the most monumental artworks anywhere in the world.

The £2 million statue will be visible for 20 miles and is planned for completion by 2012, although funding issues have beset the project.

Turner Contemporary, Margate

More exciting construction is underway in North Kent with Turner Contemporary due to open in Margate next year.

Acclaimed British architect David Chipperfield is building a coastal fortress for art at a cost of £17.4 million pounds. It will become one of the largest galleries in the region.

The site once housed a guest house where JMW Turner would often stay. He once remarked that the skies over nearby Thanet were “the loveliest in all Europe.”

Whitstable Bienniale

Along with a retro, smalltown feel, Whitstable now has a highly contemporary, cosmopolitan arts biennale – note the Italian spelling.

Between June 19 and July 4 2010, they celebrate the festival for the fifth time. Nine new works have been commissioned including a Leah Elsey and Sonia Uddin piece that runs until 2012.

Review: Mark Leckey and Martin McGeown – The Life and Times of Milton Keynes Gallery

Image courtesy Milton Keynes Gallery

Exhibition: Mark Leckey and Martin McGeown: Life and Times of Milton Keynes Gallery, Milton Keynes Gallery, Milton Keynes, until June 27 2010

900 Midsummer Boulevard does not sound like an address for a provincial English gallery. But then again, Milton Keynes is not just any other provincial English town.

Conceived as a utopia, it is often perceived as the very opposite. The twists and turns of a more organic settlement have all been ironed out by a super-rational grid system.

Town planners have considered the needs of their citizens and their citizens’ cars in almost every respect. Here is the office. Here is the shopping mall. And there is the cultural quarter, in which sits a purpose built white cube gallery.

Milton Keynes Gallery is now ten years old and the current show is a trip down memory lane, which is most certainly not the name of a nearby street.

Mark Leckey and Martin McGeown, Turner Prize-winning artist and Director of Cabinet Gallery, London, have sifted through the archives to present an impersonal portrait of “a classic British institution”, as the voiceover on one of their films has it.

These films, compiled of found materials, consist largely of still photographs with occasional flourishes of animation. The scripts are plundered from gallery literature, cut up and repasted together, then voiced by a computer.

“The machine is a programme and it makes all the decisions,” it intones, as the text veers between sense and nonsense. Despite the layers of mediation, the bleak voice that emerges has all the gravity of TS Eliot’s modernist classic The Wasteland.

Elsewhere the curatorial team have put another layer between them and the work by commissioning cartoonist Lee Healey to illustrate the history of the gallery according to a set of their prompts. The results are darkly funny.

Green screen technology is used to project a rotating model of the gallery onto a slideshow of photographs from the archives. Artworks and architectural plans convey a wealth of associations accumulated in ten short years.

The pink model shimmers at the edges with a holographic quality, as if a mirage. But the full workings of this trick are exposed as we can also see the green plinth, camera, spotlights and projector which makes the entire institution float in mid air before us.

So two galleries spin side by side, one real, and one a projected image. In the making of this show Leckey and McGeown have been careful to let you see both.

Written for Culture24.

Report: No Soul For Sale at Tate Modern

No animals. No nudity. No feeding the customers. Apart from that almost anything goes at No Soul For Sale. 50 non-profit art organisations from around the world have been invited to set up a stall in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. By the time dusk falls, the scene is a wonderfully confused mess.

a photograph of an exhibtion

They have come from as far as Vietnam and Columbia and from as near as Liverpool and Leeds. T-shirts and bags are hawked. Bookmarks and stickers are given away. Serious-minded literature is scattered to the four winds. And then there is the art, lots of it.

a photograph of people in a  gallery

On the ground floor bridge the lights are night-club low and drinks are being served. Crowds mill around a bouncy castle and a luxury car. The chatter is loud and multilingual. The statement haircuts and fashion choices are coming into their own.

A photograph of a band on  stage

Music booms up from the stage at the foot of the entrance ramp. Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed plays a set of conceptual punk-rock numbers, then anti-folkster Jeffrey Lewis steps up to sing five songs about the history of Western Civilisation.

Upstairs you can wander through the other floors and view the permanent collection. But tonight the art is competing with the music, which is competing with the bar, which competes with just taking in the nocturnal views. It all certainly beats a normal Friday night out.

Written as part of Museums at Night coverage for Culture24.

News: Louis Vuitton Young Arts Project Launch

A new three-year arts education programme was launched at the Royal Academy of Arts this morning by a panel which included London mayor Boris Johnson.

The Louis Vuitton Young Arts Project brings together five leading London galleries and will offer young people aged 13-25 a glimpse behind the scenes.

Tate Britain, Hayward Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery and South London Gallery are taking part in the programme, along with the Royal Academy.

“On a strictly utilitarian cost benefit basis there can be few better investments for society than getting young minds into galleries and realising their potential there,” said Johnson.

But later he added: “There was a bit of soul missing from my speech and I want to address that. It’s not just about the London economy, it’s a great thing for kids too.”

Thanks to the support of luxury brand Louis Vuitton, which is investing around £1 million, the young people involved can expect a high quality introduction to the art world.

Organisers promise back of house tours, site visits and creative sessions as well as the chance to meet museum directors, curators, artists and collectors. A select few each year will be chosen to attend an intensive five-day academy in August.

“It’s not just to think about becoming artistic practitioners themselves, it’s also about opening up other career possibilities within the art industry,” said Margot Heller, Director of South London Gallery, which is leading the programme.

The well-connected project boasts Tracey Emin, Gary Hume, Michael Landy and Keith Tyson as members of its committee. Openings surely do not get much better.

Feature: Artists' Open Houses in Brighton

Most people would find the prospect of entertaining several thousand people in their own home somewhat daunting.

But throughout May in Brighton, such are the visitor numbers for a typical address in the Artists’ Open House festival.

Citywide that adds up to around 230,000 guests. It is no wonder that home-loving artists from Hanover to Hove are currently redecorating and stocking up on teabags.

“It’s a tremendous amount of work,” says Jehane Boden-Spiers of The Yellow House, kt21 on the Kemptown trail, “But I like the way it transforms the space.”

She likes the fact open houses are “very social” and adds: “It’s a good opportunity for me to present my work in an environment where I’m in control.”

Boden-Spiers will showcase 15 artists in her home, a pattern repeated across Brighton as 243 venues play host to 1,300 artists. Most of those will be looking to make sales.

“Some people sell 80%. Some people sell nothing,” she tells me, the average home shifting 30 to 40% of its wares. Turnover for the whole event should be £1 million.

When it comes to art, the public clearly have an appetite for the personal touch. “It’s great for them. They get to see the stories behind the artworks,” says Boden-Spiers.

“It’s a chance for them to meet the artists,” she explains, adding that domestic settings help visitors imagine what any given piece would look like in their own home.

They have been showing art at The Yellow House for 12 years, but many artists use Open House festivals to learn about putting on a show, and dealing with the public.

Another experienced artist and host is Ralph Levy who lives in The Handmade House from an out-of-town trail in nearby village Ditchling.

But visitors to the former farmhouse can expect a setting every bit as remarkable as the art on display. Levy has spent five years restoring the building entirely by hand.

This has meant fabricating everything from curtain hooks to drawer handles, plus all furniture, making an estimated total of 300 bespoke objects.

His evident skills as a designer and a craftsman are largely self-taught. “It’s all from the back of a cornflake packet,” he says. “I trained as a ceramicist.”

Guests will also have the chance to sample home-cooked and largely home-grown food, or wander the length of a sculpture trail which took two weeks to cut through brambles in the overgrown 60-acre grounds.

The energetic New Zealander says of his unusual project: “It should be like a house, but a little bit more, like a modern day version of Charleston, but without the bed hopping.”

Nearby Charleston was once home to Virginia Woolf and friends and the community of artists, designers and makers in Ditchling still feel the bohemian effects.

But to some degree, that quality is offered by all open houses. From farmhouses in rural Sussex to terraces in the suburbs of Brighton, they all provide a chance to see artists in their element. And art too, lest anyone forget.

House Festival 2010 offers city-wide gallery in Brighton and Hove

Cities without an established home for contemporary art might well look with interest at a solution found by artists in Brighton and Hove this May.

House Festival 2010 is a temporary gallery with nine rooms spread around the twin coastal resorts, in venues as diverse as a Regency townhouse, a day centre and a garden shed.

Organisers Judy Stevens and Chris Lord have drafted in a handful of the region’s best known curators to support the project, which was piloted last year.

“There are a lot of artists here with national or international reputations who never show in Brighton, because there’s no gallery,” said printmaker Stevens.

And yet the South Coast is not short of spaces for art. Eastbourne, Chichester and Bexhill-on-Sea all boast newly developed, restored or redeveloped spaces for art.

“This is really our response to that,” adds Stevens. “I think that is because they received a lot of regeneration money, whereas Brighton isn’t seen as needing it.”

Room one of this virtual gallery will be The Regency Townhouse in Hove. First time visitors to 13 Brunswick Square should be impressed by the Grade I Listed terrace.

Painstaking work is underway to recreate the fashionable look and feel of the 1820s, and this will be the context for a group exhibition on the theme of regeneration.

Refired ceramics, collage and found objects all figure in the show of 21 artists, chosen by a team which includes Nicola Coleby from Brighton and Hove Museums, Simon Martin from Pallant House in Chichester and Woodrow Kernohan from Brighton Photo Fringe.

Across town at Preston Manor, three more curators have commissioned 12 artists and designer-makers to respond to the furnishings and history of an Edwardian home.

60 moulded bulldogs explore issues of nationalism, a peacock feather dress hints at the barriers of class, and a pair of glass pipes question the utility of stately homes.

This time it is Polly Harknett, craft curator at Hove Museum, Matt Smith, independent curator and ceramicist, and Caitlin Heffernan, artist, who pull together the show, with Smith and Heffernan both contributing pieces.

Grand surroundings then give way to a smaller setting for a third room of House, as a garden shed at 46 Buller Road plays host to a mini cinema.

Highlight of the horticultural themed bill promises to be extracts from a 1903 version of Alice in Wonderland, the first movie adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s enduringly popular tale.

At the time Britain’s longest film, this version of Alice was almost lost for good. It survives thanks to an incomplete print found in Hove, now restored by the BFI.

Meanwhile, Brighton’s answer to the white cube spaces found in neighbouring South Coast towns has, for the duration of the Festival, been given a domestic makeover.

Dream Home at Phoenix Gallery constructs a warren of lived-in rooms within the gallery, and showcases sculpture, installations and photography from local talents such as Ben Thomson, Gary Barber and Kim L. Pace.

But lesser known, marginalised artists are on show at Wellington House, a day centre for adults with learning disabilities. Curation is by award-winning outsider artist Carlo Keshishian, with support from Pallant House Gallery.

The remaining locations for House include smaller, local, independent galleries Permanent, Grey Area and Blank, together with a residential address in the city centre.

Brighton and Hove may be lacking in the funds to create a purpose built art gallery, but as can be seen from this festival alone, the area has no shortage of alternatives. It is just a shame alternatives are needed.

News: Towner Gallery aims to bring £100,000 Art Fund Prize to Eastbourne

The steel and concrete fixtures of a contemporary art gallery ring with the ancient call of a town crier. He cuts an incongruous figure, in tailcoat, top hat and gold brocade.

“Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Please support Towner’s entry in the Art Fund Prize by putting an entry on the computer.”

It is Love Your Museum weekend and visitors can tell judges of the £100,000 prize just how much they love Eastbourne’s Towner Gallery via a laptop in the atrium.

But first there is the small matter of a cheering contest. With help from the intercom, the master of ceremonies gathers around 40 people in a ground floor gallery for the purposes of out-screaming the other venues on the recently announced Prize longlist.

“If you can imagine for a moment that you are not art lovers,” cries the crier, “but you are vocalists in a heavy metal band, or are cheering for your favourite football team, or have just seen someone about to put their elbow through your car window.”

After two rehearsals, the small crowd roars en masse “I love the Towner”, and the decibel meter reads 121.7 dB. That’s louder than sandblasting.

Job done for town crier Peter White. He is clearly not fazed by stark white walls and modern art. “I’ve done everywhere,” he says. “I’ve done them in caves. I’ve done them in churches. I’ve done them on the Newhaven-Dieppe Ferry, and in a lifeboat.

“But I think this is the first time I’ve done one inside the gallery. They haven’t wanted that much noise.”

Later on, the Gallery more quietly demonstrates its strengths in collecting art and engaging visitors, with public tours of the store room and a drop-in family workshop with artist Ed Boxall.

Throughout the day, their purpose-designed building dazzles in early Spring sunshine. Eastbourne may only be a small borough council, but it has acquired contemporary architecture of international note.

“I think that what we offer here is a unique combination of contemporary and historic art, all in one venue, all in a very accessible, very welcoming manner,” says Artistic Director Matthew Rowe.

Since the doors opened in April 2009, staff have greeted an estimated 68,000 people. Towner prides itself on the personal touch. In other words, they get by fine without touchscreens.

“The Towner project represents amazing value for money,” says the young curator, pointing to the “tremendous achievement” of Rick Mather Architects.

“The project cost us a total of £8.5 million,” he explains. “The Towner cost £2,100 per square metre. The industry standard is double that. So there are museums being built I think costing £4,000 or £4,500 per square metre.”

Rowe says winning the UK’s largest single arts prize would be “fantastic recognition” and “confirmation of four years of hard labour.”

More importantly, he adds, it wil “enable us to carry on making contemporary and historic art available to all”, bringing international artists of the calibre of Damien Hirst and Bill Viola to the South Coast.

But first there are one or two stars on the Art Fund Prize judging panel who will need impressing. Presenter Kirsty Young, philosopher AC Grayling and artist Jonathan Yeo are among the seven looking for “excellence and innovation”.

What’s more, 11 venues have made it onto the 2010 longlist, compared with the usual 10. Those include the £78 million Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum and the £61 million Ashmolean redevelopment in Oxford.

Four will make it onto a May shortlist with one institution to scoop the honours at a ceremony in London on June 30. What chance does a relatively small gallery from a coastal retirement haven possibly have?

But perhaps things are changing in Eastbourne. It would appear to be from the wealth of local, contemporary art on display in Towner’s East Sussex Open Exhibition.

In one photo a fiery dawn breaks over the town’s fast-fading Victorian pier. Jonathan Webley, whose day job is managing The Grand Hotel, has titled the piece Insomnia. And that is sleepy Eastbourne for you.