The Culture24 review of 2011: New Galleries on the Block

| 01 January 2012
a photo of a window with people in front of it
Turner Contemporary in Margate© Richard Moss
From Margate's much-trumpeted Turner Contemporary to a country's creative heritage at the new National Museum of Art for Wales, it's been a year full of new galleries and art. Here are a few of them...

Turner Contemporary, Margate

Perhaps the biggest opening of the year, and certainly the most hotly anticipated, the regeneration of Margate continued in the form of a £17.4 million, David Chipperfield-designed space dubbed as a local gallery with international ambitions.

More than 5,000 visitors during the opening weekend suggested planners' optimism could be rewarded by the Kent seaside.

We said: "It's been billed as one the largest and most important new art spaces outside of London, and the new gallery perched on a plinth on Margate seafront with six interlocking rectangular forms clad in an glimmering opaque glass, certainly makes an impact." – Richard Moss

First Site, Colchester

Compared both favourably and unfavourably with a golden banana, Colchester’s new public art space bends the local heritage with contemporary work in an iconic modern building by Rafael Vinoly. The one permanent exhibition is a 1,800-year-old Roman mosaic. Statements don't get much bolder.

We said: "Firstsite appears to have divided opinion round these parts. But sceptical visitors who drop in on the first show, Camulodonum, could not ask for any gallery to go to greater lengths to include the very people who may have balked at the building's £22 million price tag." - Mark Sheerin

A photo of a stone sculpture of a man on horseback
© Watts Gallery / Anne Purkiss
The Watts Gallery, Compton

An £11 million overhaul which turned the hallowed Compton hauls into a stylish art venue full of epic canvasses, huge statues and imperious sculptures of men on horseback. Worth seeing simply for atmospheric scale.

They said: "More remarkable than its popularity was the intense power that it has had in influencing people’s lives. In his own lifetime, Watts received testimonials from those deeply affected by the work." – Mark Bills on Hope, the Watts painting which is a Barack Obama favourite

National Museum of Art, Cardiff

One of the largest new venues outside of London at National Museum Cardiff, where the £6.5 million, 4,000 square feet space opened with displays on Josef Herman, Francis Bacon and Richard Long, among others.

Jeremy Deller's insights into rock band the Manic Street Preachers and a comment on rural planning policies involving 6,500 bird boxes, gathered by Carwyn Evans, provided the highlights as the revered, contemporary and emerging all jostled to do it justice.

They said: "The museum is more than impressive art galleries. 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." – David Anderson

A photo of white marble head sculptures inside a gallery
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

A flourishing finale to 2011 for Edinburgh, where the oldest established portrait gallery on Earth revealed the results of a two-year, £17.6 million redevelopment which vastly increased and modernised the space.

We said: "The refurbishment has transformed what was once viewed as a rather dark and oppressive poor sister of the other national galleries into a flexible, modern gallery worthy of presenting the character of a nation." – Jenni Davidson

Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield

A set of ten blocks atop a swirling stream overlooking rolling hills, the £35 million Hepworth took a magnificently picturesque setting.

As well as a wonderful display of sculptures, it also gave space to implements and benches taken from Barbara Hepworth's workshop in a treat for those beguiled by her curvaceous creations.

They said: "A lot of museums are driven by trying to spread the light evenly and get it onto paintings. I think what we've produced is a more humane, domestic feel." – David Chipperfield

White Cube Bermondsey

Eyebrows were raised when White Cube chose South London for a new pin on the art world map and jaws dropped when crowds arrived at the 1.7 acre site in Bermondsey. Casper Mueller Kneer were the architects brought in to turn a 1970s warehouse into a trademark clinical box.

They said: “When people asked me about it later, I found it hard not to keep repeating the same simple word. It's big. Really big. Bigger than any other commercial art gallery in Britain – and probably, I gather, bigger than any other in Europe.” Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian

This huge warehouse is run by the homeless charity, Shelter. Opening with a large-scale flourish of sculptural monumentalism in the form of former ballet dancer Naomi Press's A Feeling of Lightness, BPS also symbolises the glut of new artistic communities which cropped up across the city during 2011.

They said: "A big new warehouse space in what is rapidly becoming the new artists' quarter in can act more quickly and boldly than London's committee-burdened official spaces." – Edward Lucie-Smith
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