Giddy Stratospheres: York Art Gallery

8th July 2016

York Gallery Team by Rankin

York Gallery Team by Rankin

York Art Gallery has soared to giddy heights this week. Not only have they recently won a slew of architecture awards, they also came close to winning The Art Fund Museum of the Year Award, coming second only to the V&A Museum. As a David vs Goliath story, York Art Gallery should be prouder than proud for bringing such high prestige to York.

Helen Walsh, curator of ceramics at York Art Gallery, told us about the prestigious evening, what the nomination means and the exciting future of York Art Gallery.

Could you tell us a bit about the night?

The Natural History Museum emanates grandeur and just walking up the steps to the entrance, we knew this was going to be a night fit for a Duchess. We sat underneath the elevated skeleton of the world famous ‘Dippy’ the diplodocus, enjoyed conversations with other finalists, artists, journalists and museum professionals and waited entirely impatiently for the result.

Despite the V&A being awarded the prize, the support we received on the evening and from the public on social media made us feel like winners anyway. Thank you to all of those who sent such kind words of support and encouragement - that was what really made our night.

How did York Art Gallery get nominated?

We have always hoped that York Art Gallery would be recognised as one of the best galleries in the UK. The Art Fund Museum of the Year Award is the most prestigious museums prize in the country and this gave us something to aim for.

To be shortlisted for the prize you need to fulfil certain criteria that deem a gallery ‘great’ such as showing innovation and forward-thinking; to have achieved something outstanding. York Art Gallery fulfilled the extensive list of criteria and was said to be “outstanding” by the judges. It is fantastic to have been given this recognition from Art Fund and awarded the accolade as a Museum of the Year Finalist.

What was it that stood out to the judges?

The transformation of the building and the establishment of CoCA were key to being shortlisted. Those who visited the gallery before and after the development will be aware of the incredible difference; the entire building underwent a complete overhaul, ceilings and walls were torn down and the whole space was opened up to reveal the stunning original features that had been hidden away since the 1950s. The judges were really impressed on their visit.

CoCA houses one of the most significant and nationally important collection of British Studio Ceramics in the world and showcases them with innovative and thought-provoking displays unseen in any other gallery. Establishing the Centre of Ceramic Art has played an integral role in the resurgence in popularity of ceramics and has helped bring the ceramic community together as well as bringing about a new appreciation of ceramics as an art form which has received worldwide praise.

We were also commended on our fantastic welcome team, our work with community groups, our volunteers, the digitisation of artwork and much more.

What do you hope this means for the gallery and city?

Being shortlisted for the Art Fund Museum of the Year award comes with a huge amount of exposure, such as being featured on BBC Radio Two and Artsnight. Simon Mayo even popped in to see the gallery for himself! This publicity will hopefully encourage more residents and tourists to come and see the art on show and the new spaces. We hope it will also raise the profile of the gallery and York as a great place to come and enjoy art as well as its world famous history.

Were you happy to be in a category with such fantastic museums?

The other finalists were fantastic - learning their stories and the exciting projects they have undertaken was an inspiration to us. It was great to mingle with them, seeing how they worked and exchanging ideas. Congratulations of course go to the V&A for being crowned champion!

What’s next for the gallery? What exhibitions are in the coming months?

In August, the gallery’s new Artists’ Garden will exhibit its first ever installation; Foundation Myths is a new commission by Ordinary Architecture, an art, architecture and design practice with an international profile.

The installation, produced especially for the Artists’ Garden, draws on the rich history of the site and its many uses over the centuries. It is inspired by the persistent myth that architecture evolves directly from nature and refers to the area’s former use as an orchard as well as the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey within the abbey precinct.

On 23 September we will be opening Flesh. This major exhibition will explore how artists represent Flesh in their work. Paintings by artists including Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, Edgar Degas, Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud, will show how the body and flesh have long been subject to intense scrutiny by artists.

These will be contrasted with contemporary works by internationally acclaimed artists Bruce Nauman, Jenny Saville and Adriana Varejeo as well as pieces by Sarah Lucas, John Coplans, Berlinde de Bruyckere and John Stezaker recently acquired by York Art Gallery through the Art Fund’s RENEW scheme.

The exhibition will raise questions about the body and ageing, race and gender, touch and texture and surface and skin. Jointly curated with Dr Jo Applin from the University of York, the exhibition will be accompanied by a publication based on new research and a varied events programme including a symposium.

Congratulations York Art Gallery, we can’t wait for more.

York Art Gallery
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