Arts

Nottingham Contemporary: The most important thing to happen to Nottingham since 1963?

Impact’s Victoria Carter interviewed Alex Farquharson (Director) and Rob Blackson (Curator of Public Programmes), in the run up to the opening of Nottingham Contemporary. 

“It’s not an art gallery, it’s an arts centre,” Rob Blackson immediately corrected me. Nottingham Contemporary has four beautiful, light gallery spaces, with a combined floor space of over 3,000 metres squared. But it’s not just a gallery; it’s something a lot more vital – it is about getting the whole community involved in contemporary art and culture.

People need to get excited about Nottingham again and the message from those at Nottingham Contemporary is that art can do this. Contemporary art is often viewed with scepticism, as if far removed from real life. However, the basis of all art (even the most conceptual) is in human endeavour; art expresses views and feelings common to us all. It can connect people across the world and unite local communities all in one stroke. Having something so beautiful, innovative and soon to be internationally renowned as Nottingham Contemporary will regenerate the city economically and also the aesthetic lives of its residents.  

Blackson’s job is to liaise with schools, community groups, other galleries and both universities to ensure Nottingham Contemporary is involved in all areas of the community. They also have two youth groups, ranging from 13-23yrs, for young people interested in a career in creative industries. They want students to be involved in all aspects of the gallery, and even claim it for our own as we have to a certain extent Broadway. Alongside exhibitions there will be lectures and workshops for the public and a dedicated performance space, so that no exhibition is a static, one-visit occasion.

There is no permanent collection; the exhibitions will change every few months bringing in new art and ideas to Nottingham on a regular basis. As Blackson put it, “there are no safety nets; we will have to keep reinventing ourselves”. As the gallery reinvents, so will Nottingham. 

There is already a vibrant art scene in Nottingham consisting of new studio groups formed from Trent University such as Moot and Tether, and independent galleries for example Surface Gallery. However, unlike cities such as Newcastle, Walsall, Liverpool, and Birmingham we do not have one main gallery dedicated to contemporary art. This is where Nottingham Contemporary will fill in the missing link in Nottingham’s cultural scene and bring the city nationwide acclaim. 

Everything about Nottingham Contemporary’s conception is imbued with Nottingham’s heritage. The building is modern and industrial, as if made from oversized corrugated iron but in a surprisingly beautiful way. The lace pattern embossed on the green metal is taken from lace found in a ‘time capsule’ buried underneath Marks and Spencer’s in 1847. The historical lace and the contemporary lines of the building (designed by architects Caruso St John) perfectly marry a feeling of old and new. In addition, this shrine to modernity is situated in historically the oldest part of town where there was once cave dwellings, a Saxon fort, and latterly Victorian slums. Could Nottingham Contemporary once again make the Lace Market the centre of town? 

Alex Farquharson, the gallery’s Director, has even more ambitious plans for the gallery. When asked if it could make Nottingham a city with an international status he leapt out of his chair to find an article in Artforum (the world’s most prestigious art magazine, published in New York). A whole page was dedicated to Nottingham Contemporary prior to its opening. I was impressed, but he was preaching to the converted. Some in Nottingham have criticised the use of taxpayer’s money for the gallery in such difficult economic times. Costing over £19m, it is a big investment but the revenue that it aims to bring in will most likely pay this back. The gallery should regenerate the whole lace market area bringing in visitors from the UK and further afield.  

All these future concerns aside, right now Nottingham Contemporary is showing a major retrospective of David Hockney, complete with pop-art, sexuality and California. There is also an exhibition by American artist Frances Stark whose collages combine a graphic sensibility with literary subjects. This is Stark’s first ever British, non-commercial, solo show: proof that Nottingham Contemporary can already attract artists who may previously have never heard of Nottingham. 

Nottingham Contemporary, is a landmark in Nottingham’s history, not since the Playhouse opened in 1963 has Nottingham been at the forefront of contemporary arts on a nationwide scale. This is Nottingham’s year and we are very lucky to be living here now. 

For more information visit www.nottinghamcontemporary.org.  

Victoria Carter

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