New £35.5m NPG plans

June 15 2017

Image of New £35.5m NPG plans

Picture: NPG

The National Portrait Gallery in London has announced a new £35.5m refurbishment scheme. It has kicked off its fundraising appeal with over £9m from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The plans include creating new exhibition space from the Gallery's East Wing, which they say has not been used for gallery use since the 1960s. I think this is the block of the building currently used by the shop on the ground floor. Director Nick Cullinan is hailing the move as "the biggest transformation the Gallery has ever undertaken".

Here are the headlines from the press release:

The National Portrait Gallery has been awarded funding of £9.4 million from The National Lottery towards a £35.5m transformation programme, which will be the Gallery’s biggest ever development and its most significant project since the opening of its Ondaatje Wing in 2000, it was announced today, Thursday 15 June 2017.

The National Lottery support will go towards the project Inspiring People: Transforming our National Portrait Gallery. For the first time in the Gallery’s history there will be a comprehensive re-display of the Collection across all the galleries combined with a significant refurbishment, creating twenty per cent more public and gallery spaces. The transformation will also see the Gallery’s most extensive programme of activities nationwide with plans to engage audiences onsite, locally, regionally and online.

As part of the project, the National Portrait Gallery will restore its East Wing – last used for galleries in the 1960s – to public use; will improve its main entrance and will create a new state-of-the-art Learning Centre with a number of studio spaces. As well as extending activities for schools, families, young people and students, a volunteering programme will be introduced.

A nationwide schools programme for teaching history, citizenship, literacy and art through portraiture will be underpinned by a large-scale training programme for teachers and through targeted university partnerships with PGCE tutors. With this development programme, the Gallery hopes to reach over 200,000 schools across the UK, and over 300,000 young people including those not in education, employment or training.

New partnerships with museums and organisations throughout the country, will build on the Gallery’s national presence. In Creative Connections the Gallery will work with museums in Coventry, Manchester, Southampton and Sheffield on a co-curated exhibition programme for young people which will result in a new artist commission and the display of up to 20 portraits from the Gallery’s Photographic Collection at each partner venue.

The project will be completed by 2022. It all sounds excellent, especially the regional and educational aspects. The NPG has for many years now taken the lead in sharing its collections across the UK, and that's why it has one of the lowest ratios of works in storage compared to display, about 50%. That may still sound high, but it's way less than most other institutions.

Traditionalists amongst us will have to hope that the "comprehensive re-display of the Collection across all the galleries" doesn't mean the end of the wonderful chronological hang, or, worse still, the introduction of a thematic one. The latter can sometimes be the best way to display pictures in a gallery. But a portrait gallery is primarily about history and historical people, and for that it's best to display the portraits amongst others of a similar period.

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