Nestled by the coast on the southernmost tip of England, Tate St Ives has been a cultural boon to the local community since opening in 1993. Now, it has become an even bigger deal, literally—it reopens this weekend after a £20 million expansion project that doubled its size. The results, inside and out, are impressive and thoughtful, making a fresh case for Tate’s Cornish outpost.
The institution’s new artistic director, Anne Barlow, came to St Ives from Art in General, the New York-based nonprofit that commissions artists to create new work. She says that her aim with the refreshed museum is to present “meaningful conversations” between Modern and contemporary art.
Visitors to the new Tate St Ives will find, for instance, Voyage to Labrador (around 1935-36), a painting by Alfred Wallis, the self-taught artist and sailor from St Ives, accompanying Pierre Huyghe’s video A Journey That Wasn’t (2005), a fable about Polar exploration partly shot on an ice skating rink in Central Park.
A cavernous new gallery for temporary exhibitions designed by Jamie Fobert Architects also allows Barlow and her team to organize large-scale solo shows or group exhibitions, as well as add performance art to its program.
For the first time, Tate St Ives, which opened in 1993, will also not have to close between exhibition changeovers. There is now a much-needed, long-term display of Modern art from the Tate’s collection by the group of artists who first turned the popular seaside resort into a dynamic avant-garde artist community in the interwar years. These include names such as Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo, and Bernard Leach.
These are complemented by postwar works by St Ives-based artists including Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, and Sandra Blow, plus works by international artists who inspired British Modernism, including Mondrian, Picasso, de Kooning, and Rothko. (Rothko visited St Ives in 1959, staying with Lanyon.)
Tate St Ives curator Sara Matson has installed a suite of five galleries showing works that trace the close links between Paris, London, and St Ives in the 1920s and ’30s. New York makes its presence felt after the Second World War in a display of paintings and sculpture from the postwar years in the gallery’s rotunda.
The inaugural temporary exhibition is “All That Heaven Allows,” featuring Rebecca Warren’s new and recent sculptures. Organized by Tate exhibitions curator Laura Smith, it makes full use of the around 5,000-square-meter, column-free space excavated into the cliff alongside Tate St Ives’s original building. The new gallery is top lit by six huge skylights and massive concrete ceiling beams, which support a roof terrace that overlooks the sea, and can take the weight of a sculpture the size of a double-decker bus.
A Patrick Heron show planned for next May will make full use of the gallery’s five-meter-high walls. Some of the Cornish-based painter’s largest abstract canvases are as tall as the huge stained glass window he designed, with which fans of the Tate St Ives entrance hall will be familiar.
The bedrock below the new gallery is some of the hardest in the British Isles, architect Jamie Fobert explained at a press conference, adding that excavating into the cliffside “added a whopping big bill” to this expansion. Local opposition to an initial proposal to expand by building nearby on what is currently a car park inspired the final, semi-subterranean solution.
On the upside, the new gallery aligns with the existing ones to form an impressive enfilade with straightforward circulation.
Finally, Evans and Shalev, the architects of the original Tate St Ives building, have returned and created a room with panoramic views on what was previously a roof terrace. For the new space, called the Clore Sky Studio, the poet Ella Frears and artist Ben Sanderson have created a colorful homage to avant-garde interior design of the 1930s, complete with a jazzy carpet and texts proclaiming the “six pillars of Modernism.”
The expansion project has been funded by Cornwall County Council, Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Headley Trust, Clore Duffield Foundation, and Foyle Foundation, among others.
Follow artnet News on Facebook.