Contemporary Art in Worcester City Art Gallery’s collection

Contemporary Collection Re-considered

Worcester City Art Gallery has collected contemporary art for 150 years, building up an outstanding collection, particularly strong in landscapes. 

From 1998-2003, Worcester was one of a small number of museums working with the Contemporary Art Society on the Special Collections Scheme.  Paintings, photographs and film work were purchased from artists and galleries internationally for the Worcester collection as part of the scheme.  These were purchased through the Contemporary Art Society Special Collection Scheme, with lottery funding from Arts Council England, and financial assistance from the Elmley Foundation

In 2011, we commissioned W-CA, who aim to create opportunities and dialogue around contemporary art in Worcestershire, to comment on this collection and its place in Worcester.  They created two films for the exhibition Contemporary Collection Re-considered (9 April – 4 June 2011) and set out specifications for the way the artworks were installed – they asked us to hang the works on a fixed horizon level and to place the Carol Rhodes and the Paul Morrison in very specific places.

 They described their research:

We, W-CA, were asked to offer a commentary layer to the exhibition; to add our thoughts on the nature of the collection.  In order to start a dialogue and to begin to understand the collection we visited the archive on a number of occasions to view the works and tease out some ideas related to landscape and how it fits into a contemporary art world.

At the start, as a group we were concerned with questions like:

How is landscape represented in critical contemporary art?

Should a gallery focus on a narrow subject matter for its collection?

Does the collection re-enforce stereotypes of conservative or figurative art practice in rural towns and provincial cities?

However on viewing the collection these questions seemed to answer themselves, a lot of these concerns are challenged by the collection itself. The works in the collection are far more critical and context driven than simply a reflection of either a rural or urban landscape.  They are as much about the interior as the exterior, they are environmentally political, they are socially political and they raise notions of identity.

We chose to make two films to further understand the collection: the first film is made by Various Artist, it is a pilgrimage of sorts, a road trip, a journey between Willy Lott’s Cottage in Suffolk to a lone tree in the Black Country.  The film looks at the quintessential idyllic landscape in juxtaposition with an everyday gritty suburban street; from Constable’s The Haywain to Richard Billingham’s tree by midnight in Cradley Heath.  The second film by Nathaniel Pitt is a series of interviews with people connected to the collection; these films include interviews with Paul Hobson, Director at Contemporary Art Society; Brendan Flynn, Curator at Birmingham City Gallery & Museum and the artists George Shaw and Carol Rhodes.

W-CA can be contacted via http://www.w-ca.net/

Philippa Tinsley, Senior Curator at Museums Worcestershire can be contacted at museumcollections@worcestershire.gov.uk

Contemporary Collection Re-considered is on display at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum from 9 April – 4 June 2011

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