This coming October, Tate, the nation’s collective of galleries for modern and contemporary art, is reopening the most southerly outpost in St Ives, Cornwall, after a four year refurbishment. The space has doubled in size with a brand new 600 square metres of exhibition space alongside new studios for educational programmes. Tate St Ives receives 250,000 visitors a year (three times the estimate it was built for) and finally will have the space it needs.
The gallery has an area dedicated to the iconic 20th century artists hailing from the area, who made the town the arts and crafts hub it is today and helped this sleepy Cornish town play an important role in British modern art. In the temporary exhibition rooms, things kick off with a show of the work of the Sculptor Rebecca Warren and a show of the paintings by artist Patrick Herron. Further planned shows featuring works by Lucy Skaer and Rossalind Nashashibi are in store, as well as a show exploring the life and work of Virginia Woolf and its effect on post-feminist art.
This new gallery space has been cleverly sunk in to the cliff side adjacent to the old building to create a Modernist environment, free from columns allowing large scale installations and allowing floods of natural bright Cornish light through a series of rooftop windows. The space has been designed by the British firm Jamie Fobert Architects and allows Tate St Ives, for the first time, to remain open throughout the year, helping boost the gallery’s programme, profile and local economy (currently the gallery brings in £11 million a year to the region).
There is also a new rooftop public garden (sadly more weather permitting). The building has been clad with thousands of turquoise handmade ceramic tiles, whose shiny tin glaze appears to change colour in the shimmering seasonal light, reflecting the changing nature of the Cornish sea and sky. The architects of the older part of the gallery, Evans and Shavlev, were also asked to return to create a new hands-on workshop and family centre in their existing gallery, as well as digital archive studio in the basement and a glass cube-esque material studio on the roof, helping breathe new life in to the old building as well.
This £20 million refurbishment allows the Tate to continue to champion the arts outside of London. It helps elucidate the country’s history of modern and contemporary art by people on the fringes of the country – and how these developments are just as crucial to our artistic legacy as those happening in the capital – a welcome shift in view that has slowly taken shape in the last two decades, but one that still has a long way to go. With new institutions like Tate St Ives, the art of the people is finally returning to their own hands. We can't wait to visit and see more of the gallery's new home.