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National Museum of Art, contemporary galleries

(March 01, 2012)

How Contemporary Is Now?

 

March 2012 National MuseumOne of the contemporary galleries at the National Museum of Art, Cardiff, featuring work including Shani Rhys James (image: © Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales)

 

As we reported, the National Museum Cardiff created the National Museum of Art in July 2011, opening galleries dedicated to contemporary and modern art. Here, we look at the impact this new resource has had on artists, museum professionals, locals and general museum visitors in its first six months.

Talk to an artist who spent any time in south Wales as a youngster and the National Museum always features in their early experience of viewing art. Many artists cite it as a source of inspiration for their chosen career. The notoriously inclement weather in Wales leads many young families into the galleries, as the 'brolly' stands near the museum's entrance testify. Its location draws in the tourist, the culture-vulture and curious stroller alike. Free entry, since April 2001, has seen visitor numbers increase dramatically. Some working artists have scoffed that contemporary art isn't on show here, but recent history. They will, however, agree that Artes Mundi - the Biennial Wales International Visual Art Exhibition and Prize, publically funded by the Arts Council of Wales and Cardiff Council - has always shown a high standard of up to the minute works. This year, Artes Mundi 5 will use the 800 square metre part of the new galleries reserved for 'changing exhibition' for a 14 week exhibition of shortlisted artists from 6 October 2012, featuring artists from Sweden, Cuba, England, India, Mexico, Lithuania and Slovenia.

 

Amgueddfa Cymru - 4 Untitled-Proposal for a Social CentreUntitled (Proposal for a Social Centre), Manon Awst & Benjamin Walther,  2009.  On loan from the artist, courtesy of Hannah Barry Gallery


Museum professionals were positive about the new galleries when they toured on 21 July 2011 as part of the Museum's Association (MA) local meeting. The variety of work - from installation and performance, to sculpture and painting - was praised. The MA promote the view that constant reinvention is the secret to visitors returning, so will be pleased to see developments.

 

March 2012 Amgueddfa Cymru Hew LockeHew Locke, with one of his portraits of Elizabeth II

 

The National Museum of Art's 'changing exhibition' is currently devoting space to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. These 60 images of Elizabeth II in The Queen: Art and Image - on display until 29 April - convey a different portrait for each year of her reign. One visitor shared a birthday with The Queen and, as a direct contemporary, certainly viewed the collection in that light; inevitably comparing her life, experience and wardrobe unfavourably. Contemporary Art should have the ability to speak directly to you, because of the shared experience between the viewer and the artist. All visitors have lived for some of the Queen's reign and therefore the artworks all have that resonance. Many visitors recalled what was happening in their own lives when the works were created. Jamie Reid’s now iconic work God Save the Queen, 1977 is contemporary with me. I am so used to seeing it in reproduction or parody that to see the actual work made me really look and re-assess. This item alone should prove that viewing art is for everyone. Hew Locke's Medusa, 2008, portrait of the Queen is a large multimedia work based on the view of the Queen as seen on a stamp. Iconic and overlooked too, for most Brits and for the artist growing up in British Guyana. On show too is Lucian Freud’s portrait of 2001 - smaller than I had imagined - painted in his later broad brushwork style. Freud moved away from his very detailed work to this more expressive style in order to convey emotion. Certainly the Queen does not look amused. When asked her opinion she is reported to have described it as "very interesting", raising the question: is one of the purposes of art to be interesting?

 

Amgueddfa Cymru - 1Orielau Derek Williams Galleries (image: © Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales)

 

Talking to many children who had visited this exhibition for a special art-making workshop, then found themselves face to face with Shani Rhys James' Baby in Cot, 2003, it seems they certainly found this interesting. "Creepy" and "scary" were two other adjectives chosen. This is a large and arresting work. Similar pieces, but more domestic in scale, are on sale within a mile of the museum, at Oriel Martin Tinney Gallery. Maybe this will inspire future art collectors like Derek Williams.

Last summer Bedwyr Williams' (who took part in the inaugural Gŵyl Gelfyddydau Digidol Blinc Digital Arts Festival, held at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Conwy, and featured recently in Cymru Culture) still of his bardic performance piece was hung directly next to the oil painting housed in the museum that inspired it, both within the new space. A curatorial decision illustrating that museums inspire artists' work too.

A small group of recent art graduates earnestly discussed the styles and techniques displayed in the works of the Derek Williams' Collection, which is permanently on show. This amazing collection includes: Henry Moore; Anthony Caro; and Howard Hodgkin. One of the graduates said he thought the collection was more contemporary than the 1500 other works he views here. It seems that the galleries are being used as a library of information for these visitors; a place to revise knowledge and gain a more in-depth and personal view of recent art.

Telling a specifically Welsh story in an international context is one of the key aims of the new National Museum of Art. It does this by showing political artists such as Evan Walters and by showing works by Welsh artists alongside their international contemporaries. Ceri Richards and Josef Herman placed alongside Rachel Whiteread and David Hockney. Hockney is the current hot ticket of many exhibitions this year, so it’s good to know his 1964 painting The Actor can be seen here every Tuesday to Sunday for free. Overall the galleries are a success, and are an asset to the cultural life of the capital.

 

Jennifer Pearce, 1 March 2012

Jennifer Pearce - a volunteer with Made in Roath and g39, the artist-run gallery in central Cardiff - is the founder of Art Club and can be followed on Twitter.

 

A companion guide to the National Museum of Art is available online at Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales, priced at £15

 

If you liked this, you'll also enjoy:

     Review:
Eight and a half Welsh comedians
, December 2013
     Review:
The Albany Gallery, Cardiff
, Christmas Exhibition, December 2013
     Review:
John Gingell Award at g39
, September 2013
     Review:
Response, Annie Giles Hobbs, June 2013
     Review: Arcadecardiff, June 2013

     Review: St David’s Hall exhibition space - Triad and Mount Analogue, January 2013
    
Review: St David’s Hall Christmas Exhibition, January 2013
     Taming the Drew? Graffiti as art,
September 2012
     Review: Nothing Like Something Happens Anywhere - Chapter Arts Centre, Canton, Cardiff, August 2012
     National Museum of Art, contemporary galleries, March 2012

 

© 2012 Caregos Cyf. | Hawlfraint - All rights reserved

 

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