Anthony d'Offay's Artist Rooms to return with ambitious 2010 programme

By Anne Field | 08 December 2009
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A photo of a mock-up sculpture of a sleeping head of a man

Ron Mueck's exhibition in Aberdeen (above) was one of the highlights of Artist Rooms 2009. Courtesy Anthony d'Offay, London

The widely-praised Artist Rooms has announced its 2010 national tour, taking iconic works by contemporary artists to 21 British museums and galleries, from Llandudno to Fort William. Apart from Edinburgh, Liverpool and London, all the locations are new.

Now in its second year, Artist Rooms originated in 2008, when art dealer Anthony d'Offay gifted his imperious collection to the National Galleries of Scotland and the Tate for a fraction of its current value (£26.5 million instead of £125 million).

His offer decreed that the works be arranged not by thematic exhibitions, but rather as artist rooms – to provide visitors with a sustained encounter of an individual artist’s work.

A still frame of a middle-aged man speaking into a camera

D'Offay sold the collections for almost £100 million less than their market value.

This, along with the stipulation that the works be accessible to new audiences across the country, resulted in the Artist Rooms 2009 tour.

The exhibitions proved successful, with 372 works reaching approximately eight million people nationally, more than 700,000 of whom were outside of London and Edinburgh.

The tour also succeeded in reaching its targeted young audience. More than 3,000 young people took part in education projects related to the 2009 exhibitions. An Aberdeen museum from last year’s tour witnessed doubled punter numbers, and the average visitor age was halved.

A photo of a wooden boat in a gallery

Ian Hamilton Finlay, Sailing Dinghy (1996). Tate/National Galleries Scotland. © Estate of Ian Hamilton Finlay

The 2010 tour should prove as popular. True to expectations, the Artist Rooms programme prompted the donation of three new artworks, including a work donated by artist Ed Ruscha, The Music from the Balconies, and two Ian Hamilton Finlay pieces: Idylls end in Thunderstorms and A Last Word Rudder, donated by Finlay’s estate.

Pledged works by Agnes Martin, Robert Therrien and Jannis Kounellis attest to the continued spirit of the Artist Rooms collection.

Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, pointed to the new and pledged donations to the programme after only seven months of the first exhibition as a “ringing endorsement”, hailing its “incredibly rapid” rise.

A black and white photo of a thin man in a suit

Robert Mapplethorpe's portrait of Andy Warhol (1983) went to Museums Sheffield. © Robert Mapplethorpe

The tour, made possible by the Art Fund and supported by the Scottish Government, is held jointly by the National Galleries of Scotland and Tate.

Artist Rooms has prevailed in uniting governments. The panel, which consisted of Ben Bradshaw (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport), Andrew MacDonald (Acting Director of the Art Fund), Serota and John Leighton (Director-General of National Galleries Scotland) agreed that it was difficult to find another setting where the project would work, despite indications of interest from Europe and North America.

The project costs roughly £250,000 a year, including sums allocated to regional museums for education and marketing.

A photo of a ladder tied to cannon balls inside a subtly-lit gallery space

Beuys is Here went to the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea. © DACS 2009

A new Education Coordinator for the program will analyse and document the methods used by various museums and galleries to reach new audiences.

“We have become very aware of the creativity and energy on the ground” explained Leighton.

Serota said the programme “lends credibility and strength to the whole of the institution” and explained that galleries and museums across the country were given increased confidence by the exhibitions and surge of visitors.

Artist Rooms is a long-term project, due to fully unfold during the course of several years. The key to continued success, according to Bradshaw, is to galvanise “the best art and the best culture.”

For a full list of locations on the 2010 tour, visit Artist Rooms online.

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