Art and design

Books

Culture

Environment

Fashion

Film

Life and style

Money

Music

Politics

Science

Technology

Travel

Television

US news

World news

Tate St Ives to reopen with £20m underground extension

A woman in Tate St Ives new gallery space
Mark Osterfield, the gallery’s executive director, said: We didn’t want windows, we didn’t want views. we’ve got lots of those. What we wanted was a space that was fit for purpose for art, but with the natural light of St Ives coming in.’ Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Tate St Ives will reopen this weekend after an 18-month closure and a long, drawn-out £20m expansion project requiring machines to pound the Cornish cliffside to remove blue elvan, the hardest rock in the British Isles.

Now buried in the cliff is an incongruously bright and airy 500 sq metre gallery for contemporary art shows that curators hope will put the gallery firmly on the international art map.

Given the importance of the sculptor Barbara Hepworth to the area, the first artist to be shown in the space is Rebecca Warren, a contemporary British leader in sculpture.

Tate St Ives' new space.
The four-year building project has doubled the space for art at the venue Photograph: Dennis Gilbert/Tate/PA

Warren has installed around 20 new or recently made works. “It has been a tall order because people don’t know the space,” she said. “I was determined to keep it as absolutely pure as the architect had left it ... although we had to drill into the floor, which was a scary moment.”

The drilling was to enable five incredibly heavy, lumpy, bronze, totem-like sculptures to be installed so there is no chance of them falling over. With titles such as Aurelius and There’s No Other Way, Warren moulded the three metre-high works in clay before casting them in bronze and painting them.

Her show is called All That Heaven Allows after the 1955 movie about the doomed love affair between an upper-class widow (Jane Wyman) and her devastatingly handsome gardener (Rock Hudson).

Warren’s art works in part explore what is expected of women, what the parameters might be. She said St Ives was the ideal place. “It feels like the bottom of the world, the end of the earth, you feel like you are going down and down and down and I like that idea.

“It is optimism but also limitation because this is as far as you can go. It is an extraordinary place. It does have this pagan, odd feel and I’ve really enjoyed spending time here and getting to know the character of the town and the people. It is like a completely different world. Especially compared to London, where everyone is walking in to you on their phone.”

In future the new space will host a show exploring feminist art through the life and writings of Virginia Woolf; and the first major show of Patrick Heron’s work for 20 years.

The main aim of the extension was to show both contemporary art and works from Tate’s impressive collection of modernist art at the same time. Previously the displays were rotated, meaning the gallery was closed for a fortnight three times a year.

Rebecca Warren’s show, All That Heaven Allows, at Tate St Ives.
Rebecca Warren’s show, All That Heaven Allows, at Tate St Ives. Photograph: Matt Greenwood & Seraphina Nevil/Photo © Tate (Matt Greenwood &

Now the existing galleries will house the world-class collection of fabulous and important works by artists including Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Heron, Peter Lanyon and Terry Frost – all artists with links to the area.

It has been a long and sometimes rancorous process to get the Tate St Ives expansion. When Tate initially proposed building a new extension on the car park there was uproar in the town.

“When I moved to St Ives I had no idea how important car parks were,” said the gallery’s executive director, Mark Osterfield. “I now completely understand.”

There then followed two years of public meetings and discussions and a plan was formulated to bury the extension out of sight.

Osterfield admitted that architect Jamie Fobert had been given a curious brief. It was not to create an iconic building on the hillside “because we have an iconic building. We didn’t want windows, we didn’t want views. we’ve got lots of those. What we wanted was a space that was fit for purpose for art, but with the natural light of St Ives coming in.”

Fobert had no problem with that. People only experience buildings on the outside in a fragmentary way, he said. “Too many architects prioritise the exterior over the interior.”

The gallery’s new artistic director is Anne Barlow, who moved to Cornwall from New York. Her background is in contemporary art but the thrill she gets from modernist works is clear.

“The sheer joy of unwrapping a Naum Gabo or seeing Barbara Hepworth’s Three Forms ... it has been exhilarating. The beauty of the gallery is that there is an immediate conversation between modern and contemporary.”

She points to one of her favourite works, an Alfred Wallis painting of quaint Cornish cottages. “I now live in one of those cottages, it is a little holiday rental, so I can’t help be very fond of that painting ... I never thought I would live in a place like that.”

Barlow is not long in the job but has been captivated by St Ives. “There is something about the sea and the air here, it affects you and if you are away you don’t even know it until you are on your way home ... it’s funny how it starts to get in your system without you even realising.”

The gallery will open at the weekend with free extended entry and fireworks on the beach.

When Tate St Ives first opened, an estimated 70,000 visitors a year were expected. It became more like 250,000. The revamped gallery is projected to get 300,000 a year.

All that brings economic benefits to Cornwall. Osterfield said it already brought £11m of economic benefit and that would rise by a further £10.5m.

Cornwall county council’s deputy leader, Julian German, said the gallery’s international profile was important: “We are not one of the richest places in the country and aspiration is really important to us. Having this national gallery in St Ives really helps to engage our residents with the opportunities of what can be.”

Unlike Tate Modern, Britain and Liverpool, Tate St Ives does charge (£9.50) – it has to in order to be economically viable, said Osterfield – but there is a £5 annual pass for Cornwall residents offering unlimited entry.

• Tate St Ives reopens on 14 October.

This article titled "Tate St Ives to reopen with £20m underground extension" was written by Mark Brown Arts correspondent, for The Guardian on Wednesday 11 October 2017 04.13pm

Art and design

New York's Chinatown hits back at Omer Fast's 'poverty porn' art exhibition

On Sunday, a group of protesters stormed an art gallery in New York’s Chinatown with signs that… Read more

Ken Loach says his beloved Bath is being ruined by tourism

The film director and activist Ken Loach has claimed that his beloved home city of Bath is being… Read more

Disquieting, disturbing and fantastical Hyper Real takes over the NGA

To be “hyper real” - the National Gallery of Australia’s latest exhibition is somewhat at pains to… Read more

Susan Philipsz: A Single Voice – sci-fi sound and emotional mystery

What a miraculous thing art is. Just when you thought you knew what it was, it becomes something… Read more

Looted antiquities allegedly on sale at London Frieze Masters art fair

In January 2015, the art squad of the Italian carabinieri hosted a press conference in Rome at… Read more

Judy Chicago: 'In the 1960s, I was the only visible woman artist'

When artist Judy Chicago was a student at the University of California in 1960, she had one… Read more

Head ashtrays and pin-up body parts – Alina Szapocznikow: Human Landscapes review

Julie Christie’s pink mouth blooms in a glowing orb atop an elegant curving stem. These Illuminated… Read more

Meet Liz Diller, the rebel architect behind MoMA, the High Line and now a home for Simon Rattle

‘We’ve never stopped being rebellious,” says Liz Diller, founding partner of Diller Scofidio +… Read more

Farshid Moussavi: La Folie Divine, Montpellier; Îlot 19 La Défense – review

On the outskirts of Montpellier in southern France, in response to a former mayor’s request for a… Read more

The Chapmans go to war, photographers turn feral and Cézanne blows us away

Exhibition of the week Cézanne Portraits The searching and profound portraits of Paul Cézanne are… Read more