After an exasperating two year closure of the City of York Art Gallery, the public is promised an increase of 60% space to be opened in 2015, but what does this mean for the city’s culture as a whole?
The extension of the current gallery is an exciting prospect for History of Art students, myself included, though many will admit to a degree of frustration not to have had first-hand access to their comprehensive collections of 17th century Dutch paintings. Such valuable assortments of art are hugely enticing for students and the re-opening of the freely accessed space next year will surely have a positive knock-on effect for the university. The centrality of culture in York makes a trip into town enticing for both tourists and students alike, and the additional gallery space will surely flourish in the environment.
On the current website of the gallery, one is drawn to a segment of text that reads: ‘We re-open in 2015 after major redevelopment’; I shudder at the thought of just how major this may prove to be as a significant home of the city’s culture is tinkered with. Having spent a large proportion of my first year pondering the gallery’s ornate rooms, it certainly would be disappointing to see the refurbishment turn the neat, intimate space many knew into a characterless white, glass cube.
Viewing the proposed plan for the completion of the gallery and roof space, it is disheartened to see York falling into the growing convention for soulless collections of open rooms, connected by the inevitable glass entrance. This will be a travesty to the buildings integrity as the classical façade builds one up to the class of the interior and gestures towards a space that transcends others in its unique personality only to crucify the hopes of the viewer, faced with the ever-predictable glass screen of the consumer, teetering on the border of an Apple store.
If the permanent collection of the gallery was substantially contemporary, a space such as this might be more appropriate; proven in the method of displaying works of sculpture and photography noted in the recently completed Hepworth Gallery, a short distance away in Wakefield. Yet, as it stands the collection of the York gallery is predominantly pre-18th century, with only the 20th century studio pottery assembly displaying signs of modern or contemporary insight.
Perhaps this additional space will bring with it contemporary art and enrich the cities limited display of modern culture, departmentalised by the medieval tourist giants of the Shambles and the Minster. The York Art Gallery is not short of ambition; I have no doubt that the additional space will bring with it impressive new collections and exhibitions, but I wonder how they will coordinate around the redevelopment and whether the Gallery will come to rue its contemporary, clinical approach to its developed interior.