Tate Liverpool is celebrating 25 years of excellence 17 May – 2 June. The gallery is home of the national collection of modern and contemporary art in the North of England and a critical force in the region’s visual arts scene. Since opening their doors on 24 May 1988, the museum has become the most visited gallery of modern and contemporary art outside London, in a city which has more galleries and museums per square mile than any UK city other than the capital.
The past twenty-five years have been truly remarkable, with some 15 million visitors enjoying a lively mix of international exhibitions and displays. Many hundreds of thousands more have enjoyed the events and taken part in a diverse range of projects. The ambition for the future is to further develop Tate Liverpool’s relevance to new audiences, A number of artists and collaborators have already sent their birthday wishes to Tate Liverpool in the form of postcards, letters, emails and artworks. They include Wayne Hemingway, Anthony McCall, Yoko Ono, Ed Ruscha, Bob and Roberta Smith, Zarina Bhimji and Colin Self.
“Tate Liverpool broke new ground in 1988 in bringing the best of the national collection to the north of England. But its pioneering exhibitions and programme of work with schools and hospitals in the region also established a new kind of museum that set a model for the later success of Tate Modern.” stated, Sir Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate
“In the 25 years since Tate Liverpool opened, contemporary art has moved from the outer edge of the national consciousness to become an acknowledged driver of our creative economy. Countries around the world are magnetised by the social and economic influence of the UK’s cultural institutions, and they study how to replicate our success. Everyone that has worked for Tate Liverpool should be hugely proud of the role that the gallery has played in contributing both to the development of Tate, and to this international context, through its programmes over the years.” Lewis Biggs, Director, Tate Liverpool 1990-2000 added.
Tate Liverpool is housed in a converted warehouse on the Albert Dock, the largest collection of Grade I listed buildings in Britain, and now the North West’s most visited free tourist attraction. The Albert Dock is an important part of the Mersey waterfront – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Albert Dock was opened in 1846 by Prince Albert, after whom it is named. It was designed by Jesse Hartley, a Yorkshire engineer who was appointed Surveyor of Liverpool Docks in 1824. The entire Albert Dock complex stretches for seven acres and warehouses were used to store tea, silk, tobacco and spirits from the Far East. The complex was registered in 1952 as the largest group of Grade 1 Listed buildings in Britain but this did not stop it falling into a state of near dereliction before being finally closed in 1972. Following the Toxteth riots in 1981 Liverpool underwent a dramatic regeneration, with inner-city development projects bringing government support and funding to the city. The Merseyside Development Corporation (MDC) was founded and one of their chief aims was the renovation of the docklands. Tate Liverpool was incorporated into the MDC scheme which converted the Albert Dock to accommodate the Merseyside Maritime Museum (now part of the National Museums Liverpool) as well as shops, offices and apartments.
Liverpool was the ideal location for the new ‘Tate of the North’, given that Tate’s founder, Sir Henry Tate had strong connections with the city. He was apprenticed in Liverpool as a grocer in 1832, the year before the abolition of slavery in British territories and twenty years after slave- trading was outlawed on British ships. He made his fortune in the sugar-refining industry and his success was based on entrepreneurship rather than trade, unlike the majority of the city’s wealth. He used his fortune for many philanthropic purposes in Liverpool, and perhaps if Liverpool had not already had the Walker Art Gallery, he may have even established the Tate Gallery in Liverpool rather than London.
The conversion of the warehouse building that was to house Tate Liverpool was designed by James Stirling, Michael Wilford and Associates and completed in 1988. An investment of £9.5 million (1984 prices) of public and private money funded the original developments. This was comprised of £4.5m from the government through the Merseyside Development Corporation, £0.5m from the Office of Arts and Libraries, and £1.5m from private sources. The gallery underwent redevelopment in May 1998 which was made possible by awards from Heritage Lottery Fund and from the European Regional Development Funds, as well as donations from public and private sources.
On 24 May, Tate Liverpool celebrates the 25th anniversary of its opening, and twenty-five years of the regenerated Albert Dock. A special free display, reflecting on the past quarter-century and looking forward to the gallery’s future, alongside a programme of family-friendly events programmed in parallel with partners across the Dock, will allow visitors to share in the celebrations.