Contemporary Art Cardiff

I popped into the new contemporary art galleries at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff this week.It’s the first time I’ve been back since they opened last year. Nothing has improved since then to be honest. If anything things in these galleries have gotten worse what with the current The Exhibitionists displays.

My main gripe with the ‘Contemporary Art Galleries’ at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff is the lack of contemporary art in these spaces. One of the exhibitions is entitled “New Perspectives: “Landscape Art in Wales since the 1970s” and another is “Expressive Bodies: Art and the Body since 1950“.

Works from 1950-something or 1960-something are not contemporary. They are works from a period of recent history.

How can you justify displaying a painting from 1963 by Francis Bacon in a contemporary art space?

Admittedly there is a fine line to be drawn as I will accept the display of David Hockney’s 1964 painting ‘The Actor‘ in the same space. My argument for this would be based upon the fact the David Hockney is a contemporary artist; that is, he exists in our time.

The contemporary art galleries at the National Museum actually include works by Francis Bacon as mentioned above (died 1992), Ivon Hitchens (died 1979), Martin Bloch (died 1954) Evan Walters (died 1951) and even Gwen John (died 1939) – amongst others.

Things get older still when you walk through into the Derek Williams Gallery. Why is this included within the museum’s contemporary art space? I’m not sure that it includes by any living artists at all. In fact last year when I popped in to have a look at these galleries the Derek Williams Gallery included a work by Lowri as did the museum’s historic art galleries.

That’s a sure fire way to confuse the general public.

Of course there is some contemporary art in these galleries. There are some wonderful paintings by the likes of Brendan Burns and Terry Setch and fantastic sculptural work by Laura Ford.

These ‘Contemporary Art Galleries’ were opened last year as a part of a ¬£6.5 million overhaul of the museum’s art galleries. What really irks me about these galleries is the use of the space relative to the fact that Cardiff has no real contemporary art spaces of national standing.

Of course there are one or two spaces like G39 who do an admiral job in supporting artists and their development. But Cardiff doesn’t have a contemporary art gallery that can compete with the likes of The Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, Baltic in Durham or Ikon in Birmingham for example.

If used properly the museum’s galleries could be used to put Cardiff on the Art map with a bang.

When it was announced that the new contemporary galleries would be opening in the museum I had a hoped for so much more. Clearly the attitude to curating these galleries is that of a museum curator and not of a contemporary art gallery curator. Only a handful of the works on display have changed since I visited last year and this doesn’t encourage me to make a return visit to these galleries in the near future.

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