Sitting in the Tate St Ives, drinking coffee and sketching, is one of my first Cornish memories. My love of Cornwall I think started with my Grandparents, artists and makers, who came down to Cornwall once or twice a year, to draw, paint and drink coffee (or so it seemed to me). In particular, my Grandfather who was an artist in his own right, gave me my love of light, and of galleries. Though the temptation is to look at everything, he taught me it was ok to spend only time looking at the pieces with which one formed a connection – to spend time drawing and appreciating only a few pieces (whatever form that might take – I always like to use my sketchbook) rather than a cursory glance at everything. And then, we’d sit in the cafe, looking out over the sea, sketching the lichen covered skyline and beach, and discussing what we’d seen.
We’ve been back several times, most notably on our honeymoon where we sat for hours on the outside deck, again drinking coffee and drawing. Whilst I love our family now, I do sometimes miss those halcyon days where no one wanted anything from me and I had hours to pursue my own interests…
When we came down to Cornwall in March this year, we missed the Tate by only a few days before it opened for the summer, much to my disappointment, and then I think everyone who lives in Cornwall avoids St Ives in August if they can. It then closed again for the final stage of a four year building project which has doubled the space, giving rise to a new permanent collection and a wonderful new gallery for their new programme of large-scale seasonal shows, beginning with sculptor Rebecca Warren’s first major UK exhibition.
Opening on 14 October 2017 to the public (free opening weekend – go if you can!) the new space brings a befitting contemporary gallery to Cornwall and finally with a beautiful permanent collection gives a context to the gallery that was never offered before. Previously some knowledge of the St Ives art scene was required, and often the exhibitions had little or no obvious ties to Cornwall or St Ives.
The new gallery, sunk into the cliff alongside the original building, offers artists and curators a column-free space lit by six huge skylights. Designed by the award-winning Jamie Fobert Architects, it will allow Tate St Ives to stay open all year round for the first time, without the need to close each time the exhibitions change. With a public garden on its roof, connected to the cliff above and the beach below, the new building also adds a collection care studio, loading bay, staff offices and visitor facilities. Clad in handmade ceramic tiles with a blue-green glaze, the building is designed to reflect the changing colours of the sky and sea.
Tate St Ives by Jamie Fobert Architects Photography © Hufton+Crow
The permanent collection is housed in the familiar part of the gallery, in the former gas works which was transformed into the familiar white rotunda entrance and buildings by architects Eldred Evans and David Shalev. I was pleased that none of this has changed and the entrance way still reflects in the light from the sea, and feels like stepping right inside one of Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures. This new curation of these pieces gives context to the gallery and the artists that sought out St Ives across the last century, setting them in the artistic canon of modernism and to London, Paris and wider influence. It was a delight to see old favourites out, knowing that I won’t have to wait for the next Alfred Wallis related exhibition but can pop in to stare and think and reflect; likewise, Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron and Ben Nicholson. Barbara Hepworth of course forms part of this, and the exhibition contains a few of her smaller works, still sadly encased in perspex (which was my main disappointment at the otherwise wonderful exhibition at the Tate Britain – which I thought I’d written about on The Little Pip before, but I can’t find), but taking away nothing from the absolute charm and delight of seeing her works in her own garden just up the road.
Peter Lanyon (1918 –1964)West Penwith 1949 Tate. Bequeathed by Eugene and Penelope Rosenberg 2015 © Estate of Peter Lanyon / DACS 2017
Sir Terry Frost (1915 –2003)Green, Black and White Movement 1951Tate. Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1971 © The estate of Sir Terry Frost | John Tunnard (1900 –1971)Tol Pedn 1942Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1981
“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.” Mark Osterfield, Executive Director, speaking to the Guardian.
Rebecca Warren’s sculptures fill the new space, which creates a contemporary space which both works perfectly with the landscape at St Ives, but also gives relevance and meaning and connects the Tate St Ives to the Tate Modern. For the first time since being in Cornwall I felt a tie to London and proper cultural relevance and interest- something which I’ve only experienced in Denmark at the Louisiana gallery before.
Perhaps too because I love the Giacometti sculptures which sit in an amazing room at the Louisiana, but Warren’s figures reminded me of Giacometti, if Giacometti had a run in with neon and some strawberry ice cream. They were curious, elusive figures that demanded interaction with all the senses somehow, and it was hard work to stop Buster grabbing and interacting.
We spent by far the most time in the most amazing kids space – Tate Create. Pip declared that working in such a space would be her dream job and indeed she spent nearly two hours creating her own works based on pieces found in the rest of the gallery, using the shapes from various works, cleverly cut from acrylic and magnetised, arranging them on magnetic boards. An ever changing insight in to her mind – ordering bottles in lines, creating shapes, replicating works of art, creating stories. She spent so long in there that the curator taught her to use the digital camera on the tripod to capture her ideas.
Buster too thought it was great fun, selecting a magnetic palette to curate shapes from the table, then sticking them to the various canvases that were on the wall at different heights. It was definitely not just for the kids – I found it extremely therapeutic and relaxing arranging pieces.
We are definitely going to attempt to replicate this one at home!
I cannot recommend more highly – if you like art and are in the area, this is a definite must do on my list. Be quick – the Barbara Hepworth sculpture garden closes for refurbishment until the Spring at the end of October 2017.
Read more: My previous blog about Barbara Hepworth
Tate St Ives: Porthmeor Beach, St Ives, Cornwall TR26 1TG: Plan your visit
This is not a sponsored post. We were invited to attend one of the opening events along with other local businesses and press.