Is this the world's smallest temporary art gallery? Tight Modern prepares to return

By Ben Miller | 24 April 2014

This year's Tight Modern tour launches on the opening weekend of the Brighton Fringe. Space, as ever, will be at a premium

A photo of people looking at artwork inside a very small art gallery
A Tight squeeze in a tiny Tate© Courtesy Tight Modern
A 9ft by 5ft version of its world-famous archetype, topped by a 12ft chimney, Tight Modern could well be the world’s tiniest temporary art gallery.

Inspired by a miniature London nightclub with flashing floor tiles and bouncers, as well as the actors who performed Shakespeare in a lift, creator Simon Powell says it is chiefly a way of highlighting work by its 60 marginalised or disabled artists, chosen from an open competition. The exhibition attracted more than 2,500 visitors in one Brighton weekend last time it visited the city’s Fringe Festival.

A photo of a man with gaffer tape around his face reading this is not a statement
Tom Jayston's The Philosophy of Art and Interrogation, from the 2012 tour© Tom Jayston
“Any more than ten people inside and it gets a bit uncomfortable and a little bit embarrassing,” he says, reflecting on a robust portal first built in 2008.

“We have, traditionally, left it in-situ on the beach.

“We take the paintings out but leave the structure in place and wrap it in tarpaulin.

“We got away with that for two or three years, but the last time we did it, which was 2012, we got there on the Sunday and it had been lifted up and used as a homeless person’s shelter for the night.

“The guys had kind of urinated in one end of it and slept in the other side.

“They left us a message saying ‘thanks for the shelter’. So, you know, thanks for that.

“Of course, we can’t complain too much because we’re a charity, so it’s a bit like, ‘great’. It had a real practical use there.

“It was damaged it but it’s quite versatile. We had about two minutes of thinking ‘maybe we should call it off’, but then we strapped it together and we were up and running again in about an hour.”

A photo of an artwork showing various small painted figures standing on a pink surface
Kim Noble, Alone Together© Kim Noble
The Tight will tour to the London Creativity and Wellbeing Week, Eastbourne’s popular Towner gallery and libraries in St Helens after its stint by the sea.

“It’s a bit like set-building,” says Powell. “It’s made of timbers and it all fits together in about two hours and can come down in about an hour.

“Being outside makes it vulnerable. There’s a lot of freak weather going on these days. Last time we were in one location and the wind was a bit heavier than we thought.

“That was a bit scary, chasing the Tight Modern down the road. It didn’t quite blow over, but I was a bit worried.

“These days we favour indoor stuff and we’re quite enjoying the playing around with the gallery within a gallery.”

A visit to Chichester’s Pallant House proved successful, but Tate themselves had some reservations when Powell contacted them.

“It’s a shame really because it’s an opportunity. I know there are quite a lot of people within the Tate who are interested in marginalised artists and it’s quite an easy way to embrace them.

“It’s a homage to the Tate Modern but at the same time it’s a way of getting marginalised artists into the mainstream.”

Kim Noble, who won the Visitors’ Choice First Prize in the last Tight exhibition, is an artist who was the subject of an Oprah Winfrey Show feature, with 14 of her 20 personalities being artists.

“People come along and get a voting slip,” says Powell. “We’re a great believer that you don’t need to be an art expert to appreciate good art. We just go for what has the most quality.”

  • Tight Modern is at Brighton Fringe, May 2-5 2014; Ortus Learning Centre, London, June 4-7; Towner, Eastbourne, September 20 - October 7; St Helens libraries, October 10 - January 6 2015.

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