Emily Sack gives the low-down on the UK’s hottest new seaside gallery – the Jerwood in Hastings
Arriving at the small seaside city of Hastings, a short walk through the town, following a path of stenciled ‘JG’ in blue and yellow, leads to the newly opened Jerwood Gallery. Created to house the Jerwood Foundation’s collection of modern and contemporary British art, the new gallery is the product of a four-million-pound and five-year construction project. Like Margate’s Turner Contemporary, it adds a high-quality cultural venue to the South Coast and holds great promise to contribute to the hoped-for regeneration of the area over the coming decades.
Opening only a year after another seaside gallery – Margate’s Turner Contemporary – it is no surprise that this new space has been greeted by an onslaught of comparisons and alleged connections. Perhaps the most pressing question surrounding the opening of this new gallery is ‘why Hastings?’ Granted, Kent and Sussex have produced a number of significant artists, but Hastings itself is not known for its cultural production. But, strangely enough, herein lies the answer. The Jerwood Foundation has a long-standing history of philanthropically supporting the arts with such projects as Jerwood Visual Arts and Jerwood Space in London. And the new gallery is hoped by Jerwood to contribute to the £9 million regeneration of the area – to remedy the under-representation of the arts in the region.
In consequence, there has been strong local feeling in favour of the project, with many recognizing it as an invaluable catalyst for the cultural and economic development of the town. Some, of course, have been slower on the uptake, with a significant number of fisherman displaying protest signs and banners across the beach and net shops. The gallery openly acknowledges these protestations hoping that the negative opinions change as the gallery draws in additional business to the area.
While there had not originally been any desire to create a monumental architectural statement with the new Jerwood gallery – with every effort being undertaken to ensure that the building blends in with surrounding architecture – the subtle elegance of the design by HAT Projects is already becoming a somewhat of an iconic structure.
For both the architects and the Jerwood, input from local residents was important in the design process. All three parties were keen to weave the gallery into the existing fabric of Hastings instead of creating an ostentatious blight on the landscape. And so, in order to integrate the new building into the environment, architects Tom Grieve and Hana Loftus looked to the vernacular architecture for inspiration. Consequently, the building reaches the height of only two storeys so as not to dwarf the existing cottages and shops, and the clean lines and geometric plan are camouflaged amongst the fishing huts via the black ceramic cladding – a unique lustre achieved through hand-dipping each of the 8,000 tiles in a workshop in Kent. Advisory groups throughout the design and construction revealed an immensely positive reaction to the tiles in particular.
Upon entering the Jerwood Gallery, a small reception area and gift shop welcomes visitors before immediately introducing them to gallery space. The first space encountered by visitors is the spacious Foreshore Gallery that will be devoted to the display of contemporary artists and special exhibitions. The gallery has a rather industrial aesthetic, and the architects stress the intentional use of materials for natural environmental control, with the gallery not even being air-conditioned, thanks to its not being closed off from the reception area. The overall space has been designed with flexibility in mind, allowing for the installation of partitions dividing the large gallery into three parts, and the ability to black out the space for video or other works that require a dark space.
For the inaugural exhibition in the contemporary space, Rose Wylie, a native of Kent, displays some of her recent large-scale paintings. It was important for the Jerwood Gallery to include an artist with a long-term relationship with the Jerwood for the inaugural show, and Rose Wylie, having participated in both the Jerwood Drawing Prize and Jerwood Painting prize, was an artist well-suited for this. Alan Grieve, the Chairman of the Jerwood Foundation, explained that the gallery will ‘operate as a receiving gallery,’ in working with artists and other collections to bring exhibitions for the contemporary project to the space. The program for the rest of 2012 includes a retrospective of Gary Hume and the Jerwood Drawing Prize. When questioned about her impression of the space, Wylie replied, ‘I’m picky about interiors, but I like it a lot.’ Her works on large, unframed canvases are able to span the distance from floor to ceiling and the space is of sufficient size to hold a number of paintings cohesively while also granting each it’s own space and attention.
Contrasting in aesthetic and purpose, the majority of the Jerwood Gallery is to be used to display the Jerwood’s collection of modern British art. And the ‘white cube’ gallery philosophy acted upon in the Foreshore Gallery is juxtaposed with a series of much more intimate spaces recalling a domestic setting. The galleries are still simple and neutral and sparse, but the small scale of the rooms and warm oak floors encourage a relaxed feeling as though visitors are exploring an art collector’s home. The works on display are rich in variety and quality exploring trends in 20th century British art as well as artists who have won or been short-listed for the prestigious Jerwood Painting Prize. The collection is continuing to grow, and includes works painted in the past few years.
In order to encourage repeated visits, the Jerwood plans a dynamic programme of rehanging the permanent collection galleries every six months, (though the first of these is not scheduled to occur until January), with approximately one-third of the collection being on display at any one time. In comparison to public galleries, the collection at the Jerwood is not particularly large, but the emphasis has been on accumulating quality pieces. In particular, the gallery plans to promote especially the medium of painting, and, in consequence, the Jerwood Foundation will be selling a number of their sculptural works in auction with Sotheby’s. As a private collection, the Jerwood is more flexible in its ability to de-accession art, and as the sculptural collection is admittedly not nearly as strong as the painting collection, the sale will benefit the foundation’s future endeavours with the gallery.
The harmonious aesthetic interaction with the environment, the strength of the collection, and the perseistent desire to reach local, regional and national audiences has set the Jerwood Gallery on a strong start. And there is every reason to hope that the choice of Hastings will accomplish the Jerwood Foundations aims of regeneration – if not in economic terms, then at least encouraging people to take pride in a place. Words/ Photo Emily Sack © 2012 ArtLyst
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