Following an £8 million redevelopment over three years, the York Art Gallery reopened in August with 60 per cent more space than it had when it closed in late 2012. The renovations have occurred both in the galleries and behind the scenes, with a significant relocation of the stores of work not on show, in order to help preserve it.
Currently the gallery houses an impressively eclectic collection of displays, ranging from modern and Victorian sculpture in the permanent Burton Gallery, to etchings from 1678, watercolors from 2012 and pottery by local children in the temporary exhibits on the ground floor.
An impressive centrepiece of the redevelopment is the opening of the Centre of Ceramic Art in two of the gallery’s central upstairs rooms. Making up a total of 450 square metres of exhibition space this includes work dating from the prehistoric to the present. Speaking about the exhibit, representative for the museum Lauren Masterman claimed that it “is our ambition for CoCA to become a leading international authority on modern and contemporary British studio ceramics, encouraging new knowledge and research to promote this aspect of modern art.”
The main room of the exhibit sits beneath the museum’s original Victorian roof space. “Known to staff as the ‘Secret Gallery’ [it] had been covered up for decades and we knew that if we could open up that space then the whole gallery would be transformed”. It, along with the sense of space it has added, seems to have been a priority for the renovations.
Behind the gallery there is a previously inaccessible garden space. While still unfinished it does show the potential to serve as a particularly successful public space. It is tucked between the museum, the wall and the Museum Gardens, and notably, in contrast to the rest of the gallery, access to it is completely free.
The areas currently constructed include a seating area, some green spaces and an ‘edible forest’ (which amusingly features a sign asking visitors not to actually eat any of the edible plants – undermining its purpose somewhat). Unfortunately, however, several months after the gallery’s reopening, the space remains unfinished.
One noticeable change after the renovations is the introduction of a new £7.50 entry charge to the gallery, following a 60 per cent cut to the council subsidy offered to the York Museums Trust. A YMT card is available as an alternative, costing £22 for a year’s access to York Art Gallery, York Castle Museum and the Yorkshire Museum (a limited number are also available for free with a York Card, and those between 17 and 24 with a york card can claim a YMT Access Card for twelve months free entry), however the question is still raised as to how this will affect the museum’s ability to adequately serve the whole public.
There are two more major exhibitions coming by the end of 2016. One, an Imperial War Museum exhibition titled ‘Truth and Memory’, will showcase “the largest exhibition of British First World War Art for almost 100 years” and opens on March 25th. The other, titled Flesh, is “a daring look at how the human body is depicted through art and will open on September 23rd.”