It was forward-thinking of the Tate Gallery when, in 1988, the Tate Gallery bought a redundant gas works on the seafront in St Ives and built its new gallery, which opened in 1993, designed by architects Eldred Evans and David Shaw to reflect the form of the former gasworks on the site, with a slight art deco feel. This continued a policy, seen at Tate Liverpool which opened in 1988 to take the Tate’s collections out to a broader audience, now seen with for example the new Victoria & Albert Museum outpost which opened in Dundee last year.
In 2017, it opened its new extension to enable it to double its exhibition space and in 2018, Tate St Ives won the Art Fund Museum of the Year award and was shortlisted for the 2018 Stirling Prize. While I can see the logic for the former, I have to admit that I don’t understand the latter. While the extension is of high architectural quality, it would not be worthy of the Stirling Prize as the outside connections with the town are not as good as they could be. The Tate sits in a cliff site, with a substantial change in level and there is a missed opportunity to create a new entrance at the upper level and perhaps open up the cafe to non-gallery visitors. I say so with some feeling as walking up the hillside stair from the Tate entrance to the car park is pretty tiring. Perhaps such an entrance was planned, but never activated?
The new extension has transformed what the Tate can do inside, showcasing artists linked with the art community of St Ives and international artists that may have influenced them such as Picasso, Mondrian, Gauguin and Matisse, plus contemporary artists including Carmen Herrera from Cuba.
It seems unfortunate that, having obtained all this new gallery space, Tate St Ives blanked off much of it for an exhibition of films by Rosalind Nashashibi and Lucy Skaer, alongside their personal selection of modern and contemporary art. It would be good to see the gallery when it is all opened up to appreciate it fully, but film and video is very much of the Tate’s philosophy these days – see last year’s Turner Prize for example.
The building’s top floor with its cafe has great views out over the sandy beach – where people were windsurfing, even in winter…… but continues the feel of facing the see and turning its back on the town.
In essence a good building, but it could have been so much better in terms of its connections.