Get in touch: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting YORK to 80360 or send an email»
York Art Gallery puts away pictures for now
9:09am Wednesday 9th January 2013 in Features
Andrew Charlesworth and David Shakeshaft of Arterium prepare exhibits for storage ahead of York Art Gallery’s closure for an £8 million revamp
York Art Gallery has closed for an £8 million transformation. It will remain shut for more than two years – apart from one special day in February. STEPHEN LEWIS reports.
THERE is an air of abandonment about York Art Gallery. It resembles a great country house being closed down for the season. The doors are locked, the café is closed, with chairs upturned on tables as if to emphasise the point.
In the main gallery, paintings are being lifted down, and figurines and items of ceramic pottery carefully wrapped before being packed away.
The wall where two years ago David Hockney’s magnificent Bigger Trees Near Warter hung is empty and stark. Even the stone stairs, as you climb to the first floor, sound different.
With no crowds here, and no works of art lining the walls, your footsteps echo hollowly.
The gallery has been closed to the public since December 31. And apart from one day in February, about which more soon, it won’t reopen until Easter 2015. That is more than two years away: an awfully long time for York to be without its art gallery. But it will be worth it.
By the time it reopens, the gallery will have undergone a complete transformation, costing in the region of £8 million. The stunning Victorian vaulted glass roof, which has been sealed off, will have been opened up to create an entirely new gallery space flooded with natural light.
A second new gallery will also be built in a new first floor wing above the south gallery – and on the ground floor the art gallery will expand into rooms occupied by the city archives, which are themselves moving to a new home at the York Explore central library.
The new-look gallery will have 60 per cent more exhibition space than it does now, says Janet Barnes, chief executive of the York Museums Trust. This will be used, among other things, to house its outstanding collection of British studio ceramics.
In addition to the extra display space, there will be other improvements, too. A roof terrace at the back of the gallery will overlook the area of the Museum Gardens directly behind, which will have been transformed into a sculpture garden.
And the snickleway running down the side of the art gallery will have been opened up, giving access from Exhibition Square direct into Museum Gardens.
All of which sounds fantastic. But what about the next couple of years?
The gallery’s collection of paintings, sculptures and ceramics are still being packed up by staff.
Most will go into storage, although selected items will be loaned to other galleries or will form the basis for a roving York Art Gallery On Tour exhibition (see panel).
Staff have until the end of this month to complete the task of packing up and moving the collection. Then, on February 2, members of the public will be invited for a final look around the gallery at a farewell open day.
York artists and art groups will be invited to put their own work on display for the day, and there will also be guided tours of the empty building – including visits to parts of the gallery you may never have seen before.
Perhaps most exciting of all, members of the public will be invited to create their own art on the gallery’s walls.
“People will be able to draw on the walls and do all kinds of things you’re not normally allowed to do,” Ms Barnes says.
The gallery will then be closed again and handed over to the contractors. There will be an initial period of ‘enabling work’ to ensure the building is in good condition – and then the major work of transformation and refurbishment will begin this summer.
Two members of staff have opted for voluntary early retirement, Ms Barnes says; but the rest are being kept on throughout the two-year closure to make sure their experience and expertise is not lost.
While the gallery is closed, they will help with temporary exhibitions elsewhere, will be redeployed at the Museums’ Trust’s other sites, such as the Castle Museum and York St Mary’s, or else will be preparing for the gallery’s reopening in 2015.
Ms Barnes accepts that two years is a long time for York to be without its gallery. “But we believe the transformation – with 60 per cent more exhibition space, opening a centre for British Studio Ceramics and creating new access routes from York Museum Gardens – will mean York has one of the best regional galleries in the country when we reopen in 2015,” she says.
Gallery off on tour
Art gallery bosses are determined that some at least of the gallery’s collection will remain on public view during the two years of the closure.
Over the next couple of years, items will be loaned to the National Gallery, Tate Britain and the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield.
A selection of 33 of the art gallery’s finest paintings, meanwhile – including 15th century Italian paintings, sumptuous 18th century portraits by Hogarth and Allan Ramsay, Victorian masterpieces such as ‘Hogarth’s Studio’ by E.M. Ward, and LS Lowry’s stunning view of Clifford’s Tower – will form a touring exhibition that will go on show at galleries across Yorkshire and the north of England.
Closer to home, a number of items will be loaned to Fairfax House, and the Museums’ Trust’s exhibition space at York St Mary’s, next to the Coppergate centre, will hold three exhibitions this year, instead of one.
From March 8 to April 28 it will host the first Aesthetica Art Prize, featuring “outstanding works of art by international artists”.
From May 10 to July 7 there will be an exhibition of ceramic works by Julian Stair – works inspired by the art gallery’s own ceramics collection. Then, from July 26 to November 10, there will be an exhibition focusing on the work of the conceptual artist Bruce Nauman – including sculpture, film and video, neon, and performance art.