York Art Gallery to reopen after £8 million renovation

PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 July 2015 | UPDATED: 11:19 24 October 2015

The glorious Victorian roof void – opened up as part of York Art Gallery’s £8m makeover (photograph: Peter Heaton)

The glorious Victorian roof void – opened up as part of York Art Gallery’s £8m makeover (photograph: Peter Heaton)

Archant

York Art Gallery relaunches this month after facelift. Jo Haywood takes a quick peek before the doors open

Part of York Art Gallery’s new 17m-long wall of pots, created to look like a ceramic rainbow (photograph: Peter Heaton)Part of York Art Gallery’s new 17m-long wall of pots, created to look like a ceramic rainbow (photograph: Peter Heaton)

The triumphant redevelopment of York Art Gallery can be summed up in three simple words: light, space and beauty.

Granted, the doors were still firmly shut to the public on the day of our visit, so the only people cluttering up the place were workmen building immense shelving towers and staff carefully removing paintings and pots from their protective layers. But still, the new gallery spaces created in the 18 months or so since the venue closed are quite something.

The cluttered, confusing reception area has been completely opened up to reveal twin marble columns with painstakingly remastered decorative plasterwork, stunning skyward views of a new mezzanine level and beyond through the window-bedecked roof, a new restaurant run by the talented team from Café No 8 in nearby Gillygate and three modern ground floor galleries, all linked but each with its own distinct character.

Take the lazy route upstairs in one of the newly-installed lifts and you’ll find two beautiful ceramics’ galleries, a room full of some of the city’s favourite paintings (including Richard Jack’s The Return to the Front, which was voted the gallery’s most popular work) and a final space set aside for a rolling programme of special one-off displays.

Just some of the bowls made for Manifest – Ten Thousand Hours, the launch exhibition at CoCA (photograph: Cristina Schek)Just some of the bowls made for Manifest – Ten Thousand Hours, the launch exhibition at CoCA (photograph: Cristina Schek)

‘We’re so excited that the finishing line is finally in sight,’ said Laura Turner, senior curator of art. ‘It’s been a long process but the end result is more than worth it. It’s so lovely to see the paintings going back on the walls. We’ve really missed them and have been greeting them again like old friends.’

So, what can you expect to see when the gallery reopens on July 22nd (with a more official, bells and whistles opening on August 1st)? You’ll be able to peruse York’s collection of Italian Old Masters, major pieces by Hockney, Etty, Spencer and Lowry, new purchases from Sarah Lucas and Grayson Perry, and a special exhibition – The Lumber Room: Unexpected Treasures – curated and created by York artist Mark Hearld, who’s spent the last few months magpie picking his way through the city’s extensive museum collections.

‘As a York artist, I’ve very familiar with the gallery,’ said Mark, who describes his curated room as ‘a 3D collage’. ‘I can honestly say I’m completely wowed by what’s been achieved here. It’s truly staggering.’

A major part of the £8m redevelopment is the launch of the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA), which houses the gallery’s world-beating – and constantly expanding – collection. Setting itself up as a national – and perhaps even international – hub for ceramics is a major step forward for York Art Gallery, giving it a vital platform for progression and status enhancement.

Ceramic artist Clare Twomey creating 10,000 handmade pots for the launch of York’s new Centre of Ceramic Art (photograph: Cristina Schek)Ceramic artist Clare Twomey creating 10,000 handmade pots for the launch of York’s new Centre of Ceramic Art (photograph: Cristina Schek)

Renowned ceramicist Clare Twomey has been chosen to launch CoCA with Manifest – Ten Thousand Hours, a large-scale piece comprising 10,000 individual pots.

‘For the reopening of gallery and the launch of CoCA we wanted to have a striking and bold installation that shows ceramics in an imaginative and original way,’ said Helen Walsh, curator of ceramics.

‘Clare’s work acknowledges the way collections can often become obsessions which grow so much they consume all the free space available to them. This was certainly the case for WA Ismay, whose collection of ceramics will be shown in CoCA. He kept his 3,600 pieces in his tiny terraced house in Wakefield, filling every room.’

It’s not just inside the York gallery that things have changed – a previously dead two-acre space at the back of the building, hidden from public view for more than 100 years, has been opened up into a large artists’ garden. It won’t be quite ready for the Yorkshire Day relaunch, but will soon provide a place for contemplation, wandering and artful reinvigoration in a walled paradise just minutes away from the constant bustle of Exhibition Square, Bootham, Gillygate and High Petergate.

Curator of ceramics Helen Walsh makes the most of the light in the new mezzanine level at York Art Gallery (photograph: Kippa Matthews)Curator of ceramics Helen Walsh makes the most of the light in the new mezzanine level at York Art Gallery (photograph: Kippa Matthews)

‘This is a hidden corner of York’s city centre that we can’t wait to reveal to the public,’ said Alison Pringle, gardens manager for York Museums Trust. ‘It was first enclosed by the monks of St Mary’s in 1266 and, for the majority of the 700 years that followed, has been off limits and hidden behind the high abbey walls.’

York Art Gallery – the facts and figures

:: The £8m development has generated 60 per cent more exhibition space.

:: The new suite of ground floor galleries are named after brother and sister Peter and Karen Madsen, who left their £2.2m estate to the gallery.

:: The two galleries that now house the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) together make up 450 square metres of exhibition space under the original Victorian roof void.

:: York’s British Studio Ceramic collection is the largest in the world and includes the extensive personal collections of WA Ismay, Henry Rothschild and Anthony Shaw.

:: A 17m-long wall of pots has been created in CoCA, displayed by colour to create a highly effective ceramic rainbow.

:: Artist Clare Twomey has created 10,000 handmade slipcast ceramic bowls – with the help of students from around the country – for the launch of CoCA. The bowls refer to the number of hours practice it takes to become a master craftsman – and the way collections can often grow to unmanageable proportions.

:: Visitors will now have to pay to enter the previously free York Art Gallery. Tickets cost £7.50, but you can buy a £22 season ticket that provides a year’s admission to the gallery, Yorkshire Museum and Castle Museum.

:: To keep up to date with what’s happening at the gallery, visit yorkartgallery.org.uk

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