The Tate Gallery St Ives ~ A New Chapter

Last week we took an extended weekend to St Ives in Cornwall, and there has been some big news there this winter season. Since plans were initially unveiled to extend the Tate Gallery back in 2005, the new Jamie Fobert designed £20m extension was finally opened in October 2017. The gallery has doubled in size, but from the outside you would be hard pressed to notice unless you were up in Barnoon car park walking down to the famous Porthmeor Beach that the gallery sits in front of. 

To the right of the main gasworks conversion, a 600 sq/m space was excavated into the hillside, digging 15m down into granite bedrock. They literally sunk a giant new gallery space into the side of the cliff face. 

The museum was initially conceived in the 1990’s as a place to exhibit permanent works by the famous St Ives artists, Ben Nicolson, Alfred Wallis, Barbara Hepworth and the like. The museum became so popular that they were receiving over 250,000 people a year. There was a constant demand for new exhibitions to be displayed, but because of the small size of the space, the gallery would have to close every time re-hanging needed to take place. 

The question was how to expand without disturbing the museum. 

“It has been a very fine balancing act between the gallery and the community,” says Mark Osterfield, the diplomatic executive director of Tate St Ives since 2007. “There’s a real danger in situations like this that the big institution is perceived to be taking over a place, so we didn’t want to slap an ‘iconic’ new building up on the hill.”

After the Tate had indeed proposed to slap quite a big building up on the hill, igniting local rage by threatening to obliterate a few residents’ parking spaces in the process. “There was an audible gasp in the room when we first showed our plans,” says the project’s architect, Jamie Fobert. “It seemed as if the whole town had turned up to heckle.”

After a two-year study to consider other sites, including the threat of leaving St Ives altogether, it was agreed that the best way forward was to hide the extension underground, at considerable extra expense beyond the planned £12m budget.

The extension overlooks Porthmeor Beach, “Our main material for the project was daylight,” says Architect Fobert.

Granite outcrops and Cornish wildflowers cover the roof of the gallery to create a public garden that is intended to help the building blend in with the coastal landscape. A pathway leads from the roof to a car park at the top of the cliff and to the beach at the bottom, providing an alternative route to the existing steep ramp.

The garden landscape is punctured by six huge stone-walled skylights (above) that rise 3.5 metres on top of the gallery. The architect designed the room-sized lights, which measures three by five metres, to bring in plenty of natural light that is then filtered through 1.5 metre-deep ceiling beams before hitting the exhibition space below.

“For the first time, Tate St Ives will be able to give a permanent presence to those iconic 20th century artists who lived and worked in the town, demonstrating the role of St Ives in the story of modern art,” said a statement from the Tate.

We have to say though, a reshuffle of the existing works into new galleries made for a wonderful walk-through the day we visited. Gallery 2 is entitled ‘Modern Art & St Ives: Paris, London & St Ives 1920-1940.

It brings together national and international figures that were seeking a new language for art following the atrocities of the First World War. In the 20’sa circle of modern artists wanted to portray a more direct response to the world. Here British painters Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood looked to the untutored world of Cornish fisherman Alfred Wallis. For Sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth it came from studying carvings in the British Museum. I bet you didn’t know the potter Bernard Leach moved to St Ives from Japan in 1920.

Works by Paul Nash, Eileen Agar, Graham Sutherland and Piet Mondrian are also featured. Below are some of our favourite paintings from the day we visited.

Tate extension images c/o Tate Gallery.

To visit the Tate Museum website click here.

Nicky’s World February 2018