I have been to The New Art Gallery in Walsall before and regard it as an oasis. The strength of the gallery is the Garman Ryan collection which covers two floors. Kathleen Garman was the wife of the great twentieth century sculptor Jacob Epstein. After his death in 1959 Garman started collecting art with her friend Sally Ryan, daughter of American entrepreneur Thomas Fortune Ryan. Together the two women collected over 400 pieces from Albrecht Drurer, through to nineteenth, twentieth century and contemporary works. The collection was donated to the People of Walsall in 1973 and has the been part of the permanent collection in the gallery since 2000. Go to the Black Country and see Constables, Renoir, Cezanne, Modigliani alongside Jacob Epstein sculptures, prints and paintings. With such a prestigious collection it is not surprising that Walsall has attracted exhibitions from some of the finest contemporary artists including Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin.
Amadeus Modigliani, Caryatid, 1913
As part of the Artists Rooms Tour (sponsored by The National Galleries of Scotland and The Tate) the gallery is showing works by Vija Clemons. The American Latvian artist includes drawings and prints of the natural world, such as the stars, the surface of the oceans and expanses of deserts. Her display is part of a wider Wilderness exhibition showing extremes of the natural world. The exhibition is also showing Esther Johnson’s short film about a community living on the disappearing Yorkshire coast at Holderness.
Vija Clemons, December 1984
My reason for going on this occasion was to see Lionheart by Mike Nelson. Obviously not everyone’s cup of tea the installation consists of found objects depicting a drifters hut. The objects were all found along the old human trade routes of Eastern Europe which had been closed during the Soviet regime but are reopening with migrating peoples again. The work was first installed in Bremen in 1999, and was selected to represent Great Britain in the Venice Biennale of 2011.
Mike Nelson, Lionheart, 1997-2018
On the Ground floor is The National Gallery’s Masterpiece Tour 2018 centred on Hans Holbein the Youngers’s 1526 painting of Lady Anne Lovell, A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling.
There are five floors of great paintings and sculpture to see at Walsall but I also like the architecture of Caruso St John’s new building opened in 2000. Praised by RIBA as almost flawless and vilified by Theodore Dalrymple as a “giant sauna on the inside and grain silo on the outside”. You can be the judge but must go there to see it. Like all centres of areas of urban regeneration, time will be the judge but for now we must thank Kathleen Garman and Sally Ryan for making their collection so accessible.
View from second floor to Town Canal Basin
The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour ends on 22nd April
Wilderness and Artists Rooms ends on 6th May
Lionheart ends on 3rd June