Damien Hirst and Other YBAs Raised Millions So Their Alma Mater Could Get a New Art Gallery

Goldsmiths CCA will open in September with new works by Mika Rottenberg followed by the UK's first Chicago Imagists show.

Rendering of Goldsmiths CCA, courtesy of Assemble.

The art school in south London that nurtured many a YBA in the late 1980s opens the Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art in September thanks to help from some of its most successful alumni. Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, and Antony Gormley among others donated work that raised almost $2 million at an auction held by Christie’s, covering nearly half the cost of the $5.5 million project.

Called Goldsmiths CCA for short, the gallery is due to open on September 8 with a solo show by the New York-based artist Mika Rottenberg, including two news films followed by the first London show of work by the young Estonian artist Kris Lemsalu and a survey of the late feminist photographer Alex Hunter. On the slate for 2019 is the UK’s first major show of work by Chicago Imagists, featuring work by Christina Ramberg, Barbara Rossi, Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson and Karl Wirsum.

The new center is led by Sarah McCrory, formerly the head of the Glasgow International and ex-curator of Frieze Projects and Film. She calls her first gallery directorship “pretty much a dream gig.” In terms of the center’s ambition, McCrory compares Goldsmiths CCA to institutions such as Portikus in Frankfurt and the Wattis Institute in San Francisco, which are closely linked to academic institutions and have a research focus. Goldsmiths is part of the University of London.

McCrory is aware of the challenge of shaping a program that is distinctive from near neighbours, which include the South London Gallery, the Hayward Gallery and Tate Modern. “The program has to be organic. In a year or two it may well change,” she says.

She is looking forward to working with younger and mid-career artists and also organizing “considered historical presentations,” hence the Chicago Imagists show, which she is co-organizing with Rosie Cooper, of the De La Warr Pavilion on the south coast of England, where the exhibition will travel in the summer of 2019.

Mika Rottenberg, still, Bowls Balls Souls Holes (2014), copyright the artist, courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.

Rottenberg’s inaugural show (September 8 – November 4, 2018) will fill the seven galleries within the Goldsmiths CCA. The US artist will respond to the building, a former boiler house supplying a public swimming pool. (The pool is now part of the art college.) The artist plans to incorporate purpose-built installations alongside sculptural objects in the spaces. Her two new films films are co-commissioned with Kunsthaus Bregenz and Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna (MAMbo). McCrory says that the films are works in progress, so may change, but with their feminist perspective “they feel very relevant.” McCrory adds mysteriously that the artist is “working with characters with extreme abilities.”

The Turner-prize winning collective, Assemble, has converted the historic buildings into gallery spaces, its first project of this type. “They had many inspired ideas,” McCrory says. One of them was to keep the huge steel water tank that supplied the former public baths and turn it into gallery space. The total project budget “is relatively modest for an arts center,” McCrory says. Around 80% of the funding has been raised so far.  


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