Graves Gallery set to reopen with brand new displays

Graves Gallery set to reopen with brand new displays

10 August 2021

Sheffield’s much-loved Graves Gallery is set to welcome visitors again from Friday 3 September following a six-month programme of refurbishment and redisplay.

New displays making their debut include an exhibition of work by sculptor Mark Firth, the first chance to see Pandemic Diary, a new series of drawings by Phlegm, a new exhibition curated by pioneering artist Keith Piper, as well as a new display on the theme of landscape. The improvements to the gallery and the new displays have been made possible thanks to generous support from The Ampersand Foundation for a five-year programme of change.

Sheffield Museums’ initial programme of redevelopment and redisplay has seen walls re-cladded in three of the main galleries, which had remained largely unchanged since the gallery opened in 1934, as well as redecoration to breathe new life into the display spaces. In addition to the improvements, the gallery has also seen a complete changeover of a third of the artworks on display.

The first new exhibition in the gallery celebrates the work of sculptor Mark Firth. Precision as a State of Mind (3 Sep 21 – 15 Jan 22) will include 83 new and recent works, including Ten Cubes for Sheffield (2019-20), a new series made exclusively for the exhibition.

The works on display showcase Firth’s continual preoccupation with geometry and his exploration of the meeting point between art and engineering. Firth’s practice reflects a long family connection to Sheffield’s engineering history – his great, great grandfather was the steel magnate and philanthropist Mark Firth, whose generosity helped found the University of Sheffield.

Also on display in the gallery will be Pandemic Diary (2020) by Phlegm – a collection of 67 pen and ink drawings and one engraving, which go on public display for the very first time. This new acquisition chronicles the acclaimed artist’s response to lockdown and joins the city’s visual art collection thanks to funding from the Contemporary Art Society Rapid Response Fund. This vital fund was set up to allow organisations to continue to collect works during the pandemic.

Another new highlight is a powerful exploration of alternative and outsider perspectives on our recognised histories curated by artist Keith Piper, one of the co-founders of the seminal Blk Art Group. The new display is led by Piper’s own large-scale work The Seven Rages of Man (1984-2018), which imagines seven ages, or rages, through which the black dispersed population has passed, but also the future to come.

Alongside the work, Piper presents objects from the city’s collection offering visitors a chance to reflect on the histories they represent, including currency issued by the Royal Africa Company, which transported more people into slavery than any other British company in the history of the Atlantic slave trade, and t-shirts protesting South African apartheid in the 1980s.

The final gallery redisplay embraces the theme of landscape and showcases many of the remarkable landscape paintings and works on paper from the city’s collection. Returning favourites including JMW Turner’s Opening of the Vintage at Macon (around 1803) and Sheila Fell’s Snowscape, Cumbria (1977) go show alongside new additions including works from Fay Godwin’s atmospheric Yorkshire photographic series Remains of Elmet (1979) and another new acquisition of work by Haroon Mirza, which joins the city’s collection through the generosity of the artist and facilitated by the Contemporary Art Society.

Following this initial phase of work, The Ampersand Foundation funding will also support further redisplays, conservation of the city’s art collection, work with schools and artists, and more over the next four years, including:

  • Subsequent rehangs of a third of the gallery’s collection displays every year, offering greater opportunity to see much more of the city’s collection, more often
  • Further galleries co-curated with external partners including artists, experts and specialists, bringing new perspectives to the displays
  • A programme of conservation which will see multiple artworks every year receiving the specialist care needed for them to go on display and safeguard them for future generations.
  • From 2022, a series of exhibitions, created with, by and for young people, which will see artworks from the collection go on display in schools and other venues.
  • New artist commissions which will invite artists to develop new, innovative ways of engaging with the works in Sheffield’s collection through their own artistic practice. 

Kirstie Hamilton, Director of Programmes at Sheffield Museums said: "The Graves Gallery is one of the city’s cultural jewels. The generous support from the Ampersand Foundation has enabled us to breath new life into its spaces through refurbishment and redecoration, develop displays which bring compelling new perspectives and create a vital and vibrant programme of continuing change over the coming years. We’re thrilled to reopen the gallery with new work from Mark Firth and Phlegm, who both share strong links with Sheffield, and a powerful new display by Keith Piper re-examining the histories represented through the city’s collections."

Jack Kirkland, Chairman, The Ampersand Foundation said: "We at The Ampersand Foundation are very pleased to be making this grant - our largest ever - to the Graves Gallery. Kim, Kirstie and the whole team are using the money as it was intended to be used: that is for the benefit of all Sheffield residents and visitors and in particular children and young people. Speaking personally, I am delighted that we are making an impact in Sheffield, my late mother’s home town and a place very close to my heart."

Mark Firth said: "Having a long-standing connection with Sheffield, both through my family history and the sculptures I have made for the University, I am very pleased to be able to show my work more publicly in this the first exhibition at the Graves Gallery as it reopens after its major refurbishment. My work involves the wall – its flatness and its reflectivity – and the two galleries with their new super-flat walls enable my work to be seen at its very best."

Keith Piper said: "I was thrilled to have been given an opportunity to shift through the Museums diverse collection of artworks and objects to present a sometimes 'counter' and sometimes 'parallel' narrations of history to the one found in my work 'The Seven Rages of Man' (1984-2018). We are living at a moment when the historic contents of galleries and museums are under particular scrutiny, and the task of ordering (or dis-ordering) museum objects to provide audiences with a wider, more challenging, more complicating and hopefully more 'enlightening' version of our entangled histories is being opened to wider input. The assemblage of art works and objects in this display represent a contribution towards this process."

The Graves Gallery will reopen on Friday 3 September – entry to the gallery is FREE, as it is at all Sheffield Museums sites. There’s no need to book, but numbers in the building will be managed and measures put in place to ensure everyone is able to visit comfortably and confidently. For more info visit: museums-sheffield.org.uk