During winter, Earthen Lamp was commissioned by The New Art Gallery Walsall to conduct research on the demographics of the gallery’s visitors as well as feedback on their exhibitions. The work was spread out over a three-month period. During this time we gathered feedback from 403 gallery visitors, who saw the exhibitions, took part in workshops and other gallery activities. Throughout that time, The New Art Gallery Walsall offered a great variety of shows: from the Garman-Ryan collection with interventions from Tate, to Eva Rothschild, Idris Khan, Andrew Gillespie as well as works by the Walsall Society of Artists.
Based on observations, the visitors from Walsall itself were mostly impressed by the work of local artists and the permanent collection (The 67th annual exhibition by Walsall Society of Artists, Works from Tate into The Garman Ryan Collection, and Scenes of Walsall). However, the contemporary exhibitions were more popular amongst visitors from outside Walsall (Eva Rothschild ‘Alternative to Power’, Idris Khan ‘A World Within’, and Andrew Gillespie ‘Anti-Scrape’).
The New Art Gallery Walsall has always been a popular destination for art-lovers, but visitor numbers have risen significantly after threats of closure due to loss of funding from Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council. The results of the research conducted by Earthen Lamp will help to build the case to support the gallery’s activities. A lot of visitors have been very vocal about this issue during interviews. It has been great to see such strong support for the gallery.
Having a printmaking background, two of the current exhibitions had a significant impression on me: ‘Anti-Scrape‘ by Andrew Gillespie and ‘A World Within‘ by Idris Khan; the first having been curated by Zoe Lippett and latter by Deborah Robinson.
I found Gillespie’s minimalistic installation on the first floor particularly curious. I was fascinated with artist’s interdisciplinary approach, silkscreen print on concrete. In an age of constant reproduction, use of traditional print techniques is not as respected anymore. A technique is just a means to achieve the idea and not the central figure, but it is always great to see when good quality traditional methods support the concept.
I walked down the stairs to the third floor to be stunned by the aesthetics of Idris Khan’s ‘A World Within‘. Khan grew up in Walsall, so the exhibition is important for both the gallery and the artist. He is currently living in London and represented by Victoria Miro Gallery amongst others.
The most impressive work is Khan’s installation ‘Seven Times‘ (Sandblasted oil-sealed blue steel cubes, 2010). I was so tempted to touch the surface of those cubes.
‘The scale, aesthetic and presence of the sculptural cubes directly reference the Kaaba, the huge black square structure in the heart of Mecca that symbolises a conduit between heaven and earth’. (Exhibition guide, Deborah Robinson)
I enjoyed the variety of cultures represented within Khan’s show. Considering today’s uncertain times, it was great to see a piece that was not restricted by this. I was sad that not all of the visitors to the exhibition felt the same enthusiasm as I, mainly sue to lack of willingness to read and immerse themselves in the interpretation text by the curator.
Both exhibitions were visually pleasing and thought provoking. I did find myself asking more questions then I found answers to, but it didn’t stop me from truly enjoying myself during the visit.