With seven Turner Prize winners among its alumni, Goldsmiths College has arguably supported the rise of modern British art more than any other institution. Now with plans afoot to open a new public gallery, Goldsmiths aims to ensure it attracts the brightest successors to Damien Hirst, Bridget Riley and Sarah Lucas.
Last summer, this prestigious University of London institution unveiled plans for a space to show works by established artists and display long-term projects from practitioners in residence. Goldsmiths proposes to open the £1.8m gallery in autumn 2016 in a Grade II listed former Victorian bathhouse that is part of the college's campus and currently used as studios.
Fundraising has now begun in earnest to ensure costs are met entirely from external sources, predominantly an auction of famous graduates' artwork, as part of the Post-War & Contemporary sales in February at Christie's, London. For the Head of Goldsmiths' Art Department, Richard Noble, the gallery will highlight the institution's contribution to the art world and show that it continues to evolve.
‘We have a very good reputation as a source for the Freeze generation and the YBAs,’ says Noble, ‘but our students need an interdependent relationship with the professional art world. By building the gallery we can bring artists and curators to Goldsmiths, so students can see how they work and develop their practice.’
As well as fine art degrees, Goldsmiths offers contemporary art curatorial courses and Noble expects those students to be intimately involved in the gallery's offerings. ‘They will have the opportunity to program films and events around the exhibitions and work with the curators and artists.’ Furthermore, the head of art hopes the new resource will expand relations between the college and general public, especially as the local London borough of Lewisham lacks high-profile cultural facilities.
“The gallery will bring people to Lewisham and bring people from the local area into the college,” Noble says. Such an attraction would be unprecedented in the UK, he believes, putting Goldsmiths on a par with institutions in Germany and the USA, such as New York's Hunter College.
To select the right design, Noble joined a panel that also included Turner Prize winner Sir Antony Gormley and renowned architect Sir David Chipperfield. They examined 80 submissions from architectural practices around the world, before requesting detailed plans from a shortlist of six.
Last summer, a winner was announced: the young, London-based practice Assemble. In its five-year existence, the studio has made its name by redefining abandoned or disused spaces. Some have been temporary, such as the Cineroleum that turned a disused petrol station into a pop-up cinema and Hackney Wick's Folly For A Flyover, a public space built under a trunk road.
Another current scheme, though, sees Assemble's founders Paloma Strelitz and Adam Willis refurbishing 10 derelict houses in the deprived Toxteth district of Liverpool. Such projects have seen them work closely with clients or users to ensure their designs are workable, an ethos that has continued here and struck a chord with Noble.
‘Most submissions gave us basic white cubes, some very beautiful, while Assemble devised a very flexible model, a space that is open to the outside world, but respectful of the existing structure. We can show exhibitions, films and talks all at the same time.’
Strelitz and Willis have used the fabric of the existing building to create a variety of spaces over three floors for practitioners to use and visitors to explore. These range from the comparatively dimly lit basement, up through a ground floor space to the cast-iron water tanks that will be a key feature of the gallery. One will be a walk-in gallery, while the designers plan to open out the other as a first-floor courtyard.
Key to Assemble's design is maintaining as much of the original fabric of the building as possible, giving the gallery a rough feel that, as Noble puts it, “will connect with young people — they'll be our primary audience.” Yet the structure also retains its Victorian grandeur, emphasised by a facade that will give the college a new frontage and by the use of light. Here, the designers have showed their skill, with subtle gradations throughout the plan, introducing a double-height project space and galleries with natural illumination.
For Assemble's co-founder Strelitz, the design shows her firm maintaining its ethos: supporting practitioners and giving them a visible presence in the community. ‘The outside space is just as important,’ she explains. ‘We want the gallery to be just as welcoming for the public and students alike.’
Work by former Goldsmiths students will be offered at the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction featuring The Gallery at Goldsmiths London. Christie’s, King Street, 12 February 2015. Viewing 7-11 February.