Ten years and £6.5 million in the making, covering a 4,000 square feet home at National Museum Cardiff which spans porcelain to impressionism, the new National Museum of Art is a Welsh wonder.
© Carwyn Evans
Opening with displays on Josef Herman, Bedwyr Williams, Francis Bacon and Richard Long chosen from more than 1,000 works in total, the immense, exquisite collection held over the border has a new home to be proud of.
“The country’s collection of works by Welsh artists and international names is outstanding,” reflected David Anderson, the Director General of National Museum Wales, who first plotted the development in 2001.
“The National Museum of Art is one of the largest art venues outside London, and a new landmark national institution for the whole of Wales."
Anderson wants the space to fashion the future. “The museum is more than impressive art galleries,” he said, focusing on a new art learning centre which will also open there later in the year.
© Manon Awst and Benjamin Walther, courtesy Hannah Barry Gallery
“Using works from the past and present, we can inspire budding artists to look ahead and create work that one day might be on display here.”
Where works made after 1950 had been consigned to a solitary room, now six new galleries will give contemporary works a spotlight to shine in.
The lure of the vaults from the valleys has spread internationally – a touring show, Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, was well-received across the US, and John Cale, who boosted the country’s impressive appearances at the Venice Biennale by representing it there in 2008, forms part of the opening display with Dark Days, his five-screen installation of footage from his birthplace and former homes in Wales.
"This piece represents an extraordinary journey for him,” said Mike Tooby, the Director of Learning, Programmes and Development.
“Through it he shares with his audiences the way memory and experience help him come to terms with a kind of return home.
“By the work joining the national collections at National Museum Wales, it can continue to be offered in the future to many others. It will become a shared comparison of personal journeys to and from Wales."
The current Welsh representative in Venice, Tim Davies, has cut out figures from cards of women wearing stereotypical national clothing in a familiar lament of the narrow view often taken of Welsh culture, and there is much to enjoy elsewhere.
© Common Culture
Monet masterpieces, piles of slate collected by Long in nearby quarries and contributions from the likes of Lucian Freud, David Hockney and Rachel Whiteread stand alongside work by emerging artists such as Manon Awst and Benjamin Walther, whose idea involves a neon light hanging above a concrete pipe filled with colour gelatine.
The Uses of Literacy is a joint effort between former Turner Price winner Jeremy Deller and fans of arch rock miserablists the Manic Street Preachers, and Unlliw, by Carwyn Evans, turns 6,500 bird boxes into a contemporary debate about the impact of planning policies on the cultural balance of rural areas.
Ceramics by Edmund de Waal, paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries, remnants from hundreds of years of welsh pottery and textiles also feature.
“The Welsh Government is pleased to have invested more than £3 million towards the National Museum of Art development over the last five years so that more of our art collections can be displayed,” said the Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, Huw Lewis, praising the museum for being “as superb as the work it houses.”
“This new home will be accessible to everyone and will also raise Wales’ profile as a world-class venue for art.’’