Colchester's revamped firstsite gallery fuses art with Roman heritage for September opening

By Rich Hook | 20 July 2011
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an architect's CGI drawing of a large curved building
© firstsite, Raphael Vinoly Architects, Hayes Davidson CGI
Colchester’s revamped art gallery, firstsite, will be drawing on the former Roman town’s Romano-British heritage for its inaugural exhibition in September 2011.

The £24m gallery, designed by award-winning architect Rafael Vinoly, has just revealed details of its inaugural show, Camulodunum, for its opening in September 2011. Camulodunum is the Roman name for Colchester, which some claim is the oldest town in Britain.

Fusing art and history the group exhibition will feature works from artists like Andy Warhol, Subodh Gupta and Robert Smithson and include loans of major artworks from Tate, V&A and Kunsthaus Zurich.

Accompanying the artworks will be items drawn from Colchester’s important collection of Romano-British artefacts, which includes coins, ceramics and other archaeological items.

New commissions from international artists Aleksandra Mir and Danh Vo will also be on show along with installations from Latin American artists working with the University of Essex.

Mir’s HELLO Colchester will retrace the history of the garrison town from pre-Roman times to the present while Danh Vo’s piece will apparently include fragments from a full-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty.

A series of ‘Zero Centavo’ and ‘Zero Cent’ coins by the Brazilian installation and conceptual artist Cildo Meireles will be displayed beside Roman coins, while Venezuelan artist Carlo Cruz Diez promises to bring Camulodunum to the streets of Colchester via a piece of kinetic art.

The gallery itself, which is a gold-clad, crescent-shaped building, also references the Roman heritage of the town by being constructed around the Berryfield Roman Mosaic, which dates from approximately AD200.

The ancient mosaic artwork formed part of a Roman townhouse discovered in 1923, and has now been restored and sited in its original home. It will be firstsite’s only permanent exhibit.

Organisers say firstsite will form a “unique artspace” that will not only hold free exhibitions, film screenings and lectures but also preserve the parkland beneath it, which may yet contain further undiscovered Roman treasures.
  • Camuldonum, at the new firstsite Visual Arts Facility in High Street, Colchester, will be open 25 Sept-22 Jan. See www.firstsite.uk.net for more details.
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