Saatchi collection opens a new gallery created inside historic art school

When was the last time you saw a pair of shoes that were good enough to eat? Probably when you last watched Charlie Chaplin devouring his boots in his classic film The Gold Rush.

Those boots were made of liquorice and so are the mammoth brogues in the opening exhibition at the Ipswich Art School Gallery.

The debut exhibition has been drawn from the Charles Saatchi collection which has recently been left to the nation by the avid art collector.

The exhibition was opened last night by Suffolk-based artist Maggi Hambling, who was a graduate of the Ipswich Art School and was tutored by the legendary Ipswich artist Colin Moss who was senior lecturer at the school for 30 years.

The former Ipswich Art School, an evocative building which launched so many careers, has now been re-opened as a gallery dedicated to upcoming talent. The re-opening of the gallery is tied in with the reinvigoration of Ipswich Museum, next door. The two buildings are linked and were founded within a few years of one another in the late 19th Century.

Jonathan Owen, Ipswich Council’s director responsible for arts and leisure, said that it was all part of the Victorians’ insatiable thirst for knowledge. Science and the arts were both major preoccupations during the Victorian era, priorities which have risen to the surface again in the 21st Century.

Jonathan said that inspiration for students and the public alike was at the heart of the new gallery. They would be staging exhibitions which displayed the very best in contemporary art and would be forging close links with both Suffolk New College and University Campus Suffolk.

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“Hopefully once the gallery is up and running then we can open up some studio space here once again and have artists-in-residence working away in situ, displaying work as it is created.”

He said that the opening of Art School Gallery was to recreate that spirit of art, inspiration and education so beloved of the Victorian era. “If you look around here, we have the museum, we have the Wolsey Studio and the Ipswich Art School which are all part of our cultural life and it is our wish to create a cultural focus in this part of town – a cultural hub, if you will.

“So when the art school came on to the market 15-18 months ago we could see the opportunity of linking it with the museum and the Wolsey Studio and doing something special in this part of town.”

He said that there were opportunities to develop and refurbish the gallery and the museum with heritage-lottery grants which they were in the process of applying for. The gallery is being run in partnership with Suffolk New College. “We are borrowing the building for a couple of years. Hopefully we will get some high profile exhibitions here, the Saatchi exhibition is an excellent start, and use that to generate public support, perhaps a public subscription to purchase the building.”

He said that he would love for former art students, who benefited from the training they received at Ipswich Art School to launch their careers to become involved in a project which would hopefully inspire the next generation of Ipswich art students to follow in their footsteps.

“Maggi (Hambling) has been very supportive and has a tremendous regard for the Ipswich Art School and she has been very good at offering advice and galvanising us at the council – keeping us on our toes.”

The target is to raise �600,000 in two years to purchase the building, creating a permanent contemporary art gallery for Ipswich.

Ipswich galleries curator Emma Roodhouse said that the borough had the most important collection of East Anglian artists in the country but limited display space at the Wolsey Art Gallery attached to Christchurch Mansion meant that very little of the 20th Century collection was ever on display.

The addition of the Art School Gallery would mean that there was much more flexibility to vary exhibitions and put highlight specialist areas of the collection.

Christchurch Mansion is highly regarded for its collection of fine and decorative art and is home to the finest collection of Constables outside London. It will be home to the borough’s heritage collection. Contemporary art will be focused upon the Art School Gallery with its many side galleries offering a varying display area.

Emma Roodhouse added that the modern and contemporary collections including works from significant local artists like Cedric Morris and Colin Moss would benefit from themed exhibition space and the eight smaller side-galleries can develop tangental stories linked to, but not part of, the main exhibition which would inform the way art develops and artists seek inspiration from one another.

The Town Hall Galleries will continue to host short-term or temporary exhibitions.

Jonathan said that the emphasis would be always having an outside exhibition filling at least part of the space on the Art School Gallery, bringing the best of the nation’s art to Ipswich to complement the homegrown collection.

Emma said that items from the Saatchi gallery were selected by gallery staff to respond to the space in which they were being exhibited.

As you step through the doors into the main atrium, you are confronted with a large slumbering figure on a large, rather untidy bed – a shaggy dog by his side.

“This is the big statement piece, which is designed to grab you as you walk through the door.” She said that the piece by Will Ryman, which is made out of papier machie and chicken wire, was designed to be part of a narrative. “It looks like it’s part of a giant stage set. As you look at it, you want to know who the person is, how he came there, what his life is like.”

She said that the gallery atrium gave the setting a Waterfront loft apartment feel.

“Will Ryman was a playwright before he became a sculptor, and his work draws as much from the realm of theatre as it does from art. Spanning over eight metres, The Bed is both a monumental sculpture and a stage.”

She said that people can bring their own interpretations to the scene. For her, Ryman’s giant man reclines in a dreamy world, somewhere between a Sunday morning lie-in and a nervous breakdown. “It’s not just the bed there’s also the clutter of notebooks, beer cans and open bags of crisps.” She said that the gallery staff had fun interpreting the accompanying photographs and placing the props around the main bed.

In a statement, New York artist Will Ryman said: “The Bed began as a personal play with scale in 2006 when I became fascinated with a possibility of the world as seen from a different point of view. Everybody sees things in a distorted way of course but I remember as a child, for instance, coming into my parents’ bedroom and having the impression of their bed being much bigger than it actually was. Here The Bed is a metaphor for a similar ongoing feeling, which I believe everyone carries throughout their life, trying to figure how you feel and who you are and what your place is in relation to things that surround you.”

Once you have negotiated your way out of the atrium, there is a galaxy of other rooms and exhibits awaiting you. “We’re delighted to have such a wonderful gallery space,” said Emma, “Because it is so large, it allows us to host some big installations and show them to their best advantage. This opening exhibition represents the largest number of Saatchi exhibits on display outside London.”

In the rooms that follow there is the huddled figure of a rather pained looking individual called Joanna, a stuffed figure of a sloth wearing rings on its fingers, sprawled out in a Victorian museum case, a mummified figure surrounded by an array of canoptic jars and a pair of Beryl Cook-esque legs running for their lives, made out of fragile, unfired clay.

The legs were created by Rebecca Warren, a Turner prize nominated artist in 2006.

But, probably, one of the most potent and impressive images visitors to the exhibition will be left with is the pair of giant-sized shoes made entirely out of liquorice. The smell of liquorice is immediately over-powering and so evocative of childhood visits to the sweetshop.

Seeing these massive shoes up close allows you to marvel at the workmanship and how artist Andy Yoder has worked in thousands of individual pieces of liquorice to create this pair of novel and rather wondrous footwear.

This artist who was born in Cleveland, Ohio in the United States, likes to create objects which challenge the viewers perception of the world and how we deal with it. Are these shoes really footwear or are they sweets? Or are they really a sculpture? Maybe they are a combination of all three things. There is no correct answer.

In a personal statement the artist said: “I find that the practical requirements of public art push me to respond with solutions that I never would have come up with in the studio. Sculpture forces one to deal with the real world, and public art does even more so.”

Another impressive piece is Matthew Monahan’s Midnight Mission. Monahan’s sculptures look as if the work has been torn from the streets of a Stalinist regime or created for a retro-futurist Fritz Lang movie like Metropolis.

Maggi Hambling said that Ipswich Art School was a leading centre of creativity from the 1930s until its closure in 1996. “My beginnings were at Ipswich Art School. Its restoration as a place of vision would re-focus attention on to the vital richness of this place and its continuing inspiration for artists.”

In addition to Maggi other famous names associated with Ipswich Art School include Brian Eno, Glynn Thomas, Laurence Self and Bernard Reynolds. Emma said that the raison d’etre behind the gallery was to provide a bridge between contemporary art, education, upcoming artists and the general public. The idea was to reach out to the world and provide an inspirational look at what the best of modern art was producing.

The Saatchi gallery exhibits will remain at the Ipswich Art School Gallery in High Street, Ipswich, until January 9 2011.

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