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Leeds Art Gallery Reopens with Newly Uncovered Space & A World-class Exhibition

· Ali Turner · Culture

A hidden exhibition space, new artworks and the works of Joseph Beuys will officially be revealed in tomorrow.

Leeds Art Gallery

It’s been a long time coming, but Leeds Art Gallery will tomorrow, and they have a few surprises up their sleeve.

Drum roll please… Leeds Art Gallery will reopen after major refurbishments on 13th October 2017. Admittedly, Friday 13th is an interesting choice, they’re not exactly courting Lady Luck, but it’s exciting nonetheless – we’ve been without our beloved gallery for over a year and a half, and the opening date has already been put back from spring to autumn. So what have they done and what can you expect? We’ve got the lowdown…

The refurbishments uncovered a few surprises

Leeds Art Gallery Central Court

Credit: Jerry Hardman Jones

Although Leeds Art Gallery was closed for essential repairs, with the roof at the top of the agenda, the work has uncovered a few unexpected surprises. Hidden beneath a false ceiling in one of the first floor galleries, they discovered a beautiful barrel-vaulted glazed roof. It’s been out of sight and out of mind for over 40 years, but will now be brought back into the spotlight. The newly renovated exhibition space will house a new sculpture, recently donated by the Contemporary Art Society – Arena (2000) is a major work by Alison Wilding, and there’s an interesting story behind it.

It was commissioned by law firm Simmons & Simmons back in 2000 and was set to be the statement piece in their new London HQ, but things went awry when architect Santiago Calatrava changed his original designs. In the end, the sculpture was just too big for the space (it’s over 4 metres wide, after all), so they packed it up and put it into storage. There it remained for sixteen years, until it was dusted off in 2016 for an exhibition at the Art House Foundation in East London. Luckily, it will now be on permanent display, right here in Leeds, so you can see Wilding’s stunning creation whenever you want.

Exciting new additions alongside the 130 year old collection

Portrait of Lotharga Circtz Photo Jordan Hutchins

Portrait of Lotharga Circtz Photo Jordan Hutchins

Arena isn’t the only new work of art that will be on display in Leeds Art Gallery when it reopens. You can see the new Art Happens commission, Xanadu, by German abstract artist Lothar Götz. This huge wall painting links the ground floor with the one above, tempting you up to the newly renovated galleries.

They’ve also acquired a two-channel video by LA-based artist Martine Syms. A Pilot For A Show About Nowhere (2015) is, as the name suggests, a pilot for a TV show, but this is less of a pitch and more of an examination of the politics of television and the way that black people are represented.

It was given to Leeds Art Gallery through the new Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society initiative (VNXXCAS), which aims to address gender inequality in the arts, by acquiring significant works by female artists and ensuring that they go on display alongside their male peers. Leeds Art Gallery is the first museum to receive a work of art through the initiative.

A Pilot For A Show About Nowhere will form the centrepiece of the original 130 year old collection, which has been completely reorganised and rehung to give us a fresh perspective. They’ve also taken the opportunity to bring out pieces that haven’t been on display for generations, so don’t be surprised if you stumble upon works you’ve never seen before. Look out for watercolours by John Sell Cotman, Maternity (1910-11) a sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein, and works on paper by Mexican artist Diego Rivera, as well as sculptures back on display by Alexander Calder, Tony Cragg and Simon Fujiwara.

The gallery will reopen with a huge Joseph Beuys exhibition

Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys, Untitled, 1970. ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Art Fund 2008. Copyright DACS. Photo © Tate (Antonia Reeve)

The big draw when Leeds Art Gallery reopens tomorrow, however, will be ARTIST ROOMS: Joseph Beuys. This will be the first time that the German artist’s work has been on display at the gallery since 1983, and the collection is so big that it will take over three galleries on the ground floor. You’ll be able to see important sculptures from his long career, including Scala Napoletana (1985), one of the last pieces he created before his death in 1986.

The exhibition will showcase many of Beuys’ most important sculptures, as well as a number of works on paper, all of which have been drawn from the ARTIST ROOMS collection of international modern and contemporary art, jointly owned by National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. It’s not just the art though – you’ll be able to delve deeper into the mindset of the artist and the inspiration behind his work at a series of talks and events at Leeds Art Gallery.

It’s about time

Alison Wilding's Arena, Leeds Art Gallery

Credit: Alison Wilding, Arena, 2000, FXP, London 2016, Photo © Peter White, Gifted by Simmons & Simmons through the Contemporary Art Society

The reopening of Leeds Art Gallery feels like it’s been a long time coming, as we’ve waited, not-so-patiently for one of our most prized cultural institutions to be returned to us – but it will all be worth it in the end, when we get a glimpse of all the fabulous treats they have lined up for us.

It will no doubt have an important role to play in our European Capital of Culture 2023 bid (assuming Brexit doesn’t get in our way) but right now, we just can’t wait to get in there – and they can’t wait to have us. “Leeds Art Gallery is a wonderful and iconic element of our city’s fantastic cultural offer and we cannot wait to see the galleries open their doors to the public once again this October,” Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Judith Blake told us, “Now that we are moving full steam ahead with our 2023 European Capital of Culture bid, it is brilliant to see the return of Leeds Art Gallery which, internationally recognised and celebrated, will offer another timely reminder of why our bid is so varied and strong.”

Leeds Art Gallery officially reopens to the public on Friday 13th October 2017.

Cover image credit: Alison Wilding, Arena, 2000, FXP, London 2016, Photo © Peter White, Gifted by Simmons & Simmons through the Contemporary Art Society