The Jerwood Gallery, Hastings

PUBLISHED: 01:31 31 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:41 20 February 2013

The Jerwood Gallery, Hastings

The Jerwood Gallery, Hastings

The distinctive obsidian Jerwood Gallery forms part of the £9m redevelopment of the town's seafront. As the second exhibition opens to the public, Gallery Director Elizabeth Gilmore reflects on the story so far

The Jerwood Gallery lies on Hastings Stade like a piece of sea glass polished smooth by the tides. Gallery architects HAT Projects have designed a building that complements and elevates its surroundings. Clad in 8,000 ceramic tiles, the design nods to the vernacular tarred net shops that surround the building. It also reflects the changing moods of the sea.

The gallery is the latest in a number of seafront regeneration projects in the South East (among them Margates Turner Contemporary and Eastbournes Towner) with contemporary arts at their core. The galleries dotted along the coast have been dubbed the string of pearls by lyrical observers. Jerwood chose Hastings for many reasons, says Gallery Director Elizabeth Gilmore, but the towns vigorous visual arts community was key.

The 4m gallery was fully funded by parent organisation the Jerwood Foundation, which also operates the famous Jerwood Space, Jerwood Visual Arts and Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

The project formed part of a 9m redevelopment of Hastings historical seafront, with the remaining 5m of improvements being financed by Sea Change, South East England Development, East Sussex County Council and Hastings Borough Council.

The Jerwood Foundation was established in 1977 to support the arts in Britain. After John Jerwoods death in 1991, Chairman Alan Grieve built the profile of the organisation and assembled a collection of 200 works. The Jerwood Gallery was built as a permanent home for the collection.

There is one large contemporary space for temporary exhibitions and seven galleries dedicated to the collection or associated artists. At any time around a third of the Jerwood Collection is on
show, with a re-hang scheduled for the beginning of 2012.

The collection mainly comprises 20th and 21st Century British painting following two loose themes. Many of the works are by artists who have worked principally between the First World War and the 1960s, others are by contemporary artists associated with Jerwood, such as Katie Pratt and Prunella Clough both winners of the Jerwood Painting Prize. The gallery is Jerwoods shop window for visual arts, says Elizabeth Gilmore.

It is quite a broad remit of works, she continues, and we are very keen for the contemporary show to offer a lively dynamic to sit alongside the collection. Where there are links we will really play
on those.

The gallerys inaugural exhibition was Big Boys Sit in the Front, a retrospective of the work of Kent-based artist Rose Wylie. Currently showing is Gary Hume: Flashback, an Arts Council Collection exhibition from the Southbank Centre.

We have been very pleased with our visitor numbers, says Elizabeth. In the early days when we first launched there was a huge influx of literally thousands a day. That has calmed down but we regularly have between 200-500 people visiting us daily.

The gallery project was not without its controversies, mainly from fishermen concerned about the disruption to their working area, home to Europes largest fleet of beach-launched fishing boats. There was a small but vocal minority who had some concerns about the project and some concerns about the changes on the Stade, says Elizabeth. We understood that, but we were confident that what would be delivered is an amazing building for Hastings.

She has been impressed by the sensitivity of the design: During the construction phase it was particularly obvious looking from the East or West Hill that you could see what looked like little loft spaces on the roofline of the Gallery. That very much echoes the shape and size of the
net huts that flank it either side.

The building also has a very domestic quality. The Stade has quite a lot of domestic-scale buildings and it was very important that the gallery didnt oversize its context. I think that was very present in the architects minds.

Reactions so far from the visiting public have been similarly positive:
We have been inundated with comments about the gallery, the building, the collection and the contemporary show. We are really thrilled.

Admission: Adult 7, Children (5-16 years) 3.50, Concessions 5, Local residents: Adult 2, child 1

Whats on
Gary Hume: Flashback 14 July 23 September
Gillian Ayres: Paintings from the 50s 6 October - 25 November
Jerwood Drawing Prize 8 December 6 January

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