I went down to St Ives by train last week with the artist Rana Begum. Rana is making a new installation for our major exhibition celebrating the Opening of the new Kettle’s Yard in February next year. Light is a fundamental material for Rana in creating her sculptures and installations so it was great to experience arriving in St Ives with her; as always the delicate, shifting light and stunning views across the bay make you wish you could stay for weeks, not just one night.
Rana and I arrived for the Opening at 7.45pm. Even at the entrance, with coats being checked in and names ticked off on Ipads there was a great buzz of excitement and warmth. Once inside we were immediately greeted by Maria Balshaw (Director Tate), Anne Barlow (Artistic Director) and Mark Osterfield (Executive Director). At the foot of the stairs which lead to the galleries, was a wonderful theatrical sculpture of a palm tree, in coloured lights, as if to play up the sense of a museum on a Riviera, by Tangier artist Yto Barrada. On a balmy October evening this was a perfect art work to welcome everyone. Upstairs, what a pleasure to wonder through the existing galleries, beautifully rehung by Curator Sara Matson. Familiar names and works of course, with many of the artists also in our collection: Ben Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood and more. Beneath some of the paintings there were superb archive displays with letters and catalogues. I was fascinated to see a section with a still radical white relief by Nicholson from the mid 1930’s, next to a Mondrian painting, just a few feet away from a number of British Surrealist paintings. This was a period when an artistic battle was raging between the pure, abstract art of Nicholson, Mondrian, Gabo and others, and those aligning their work with the new Surrealist movement. The display brilliantly presents this remarkable time, characterized by artistic factions. If you imagine the artists concerned standing by their paintings they would not all be talking to each other! (It was at this dynamic time for art in England that Jim Ede left his job at the Tate and moved to Tangier. But that is another story..)
From the original galleries, a corridor opens out into the new spaces designed by Jamie Fobert. They start with a very generous and high entrance room (with long benches with rope seats designed by Jamie). You then enter the new gallery: a single, enormous, magnificent space. With its repeated concrete ceiling beams it feels like a modernist aircraft hanger. During the day, the changing Cornish light filters past the beams into the Gallery. I will need to come back soon to experience this. The exhibition, ‘All That Heaven Allows’ is Rebecca Warren’s first major UK solo exhibition in eight years. Her ambitious and endlessly curious sculptures are a perfect foil to the volume and scale of the Gallery. It will be exciting to see how later exhibitions occupy this thrilling new space for art.
Everyone crowded into the original rotunda space for the speeches. Maria and Mark spoke passionately about the journey over ten years to this moment and about why connecting art, artists and people matters more than ever. Watching Mark speaking, and thanking so many people, I couldn’t help but look forward to our own opening in less than four months.
The rest of the evening was a whirl of chatting to people, congratulating Jamie and the Project architect Matt Whittaker, dancing upstairs to a perfectly pitched disco playlist (‘Good Times!’) and eating delicious canapés. Everyone I met wanted to know about Kettle’s Yard. When are you opening? (February!) I think they are all going to come. Meantime, huge congratulations to all the team at St Ives for what they have achieved.
Andrew Nairne, Director