Everything Old was Once New
Everything Old was Once New presented a contemporary response to the historic Greyfriars House in Worcester. The exhibition at the Medieval House featured 13 works on loan from the Arts Council Collection, the largest loan collection of modern and contemporary British art in the world. Greyfriars’ intriguing history was explored through the juxtaposition of works by contemporary artists including: Tracey Emin, Anya Gallaccio, Claire Barclay, Mark Wallinger and Kathy Prendergast.
Title Everything Old was Once New - Greyfriars House and Gardens Historical Sites Greyfriars House and Gardens, Worcester Lead Artists Anya Gallaccio, Simon Periton, Louise Hopkins, Richard Woods, Claire Barclay, Alek O, Christine Borland, Tracey Emin, Mark Wallinger, Kathy Prendergast, Peter Peri Artwork Sculpture, Paintings, Prints, Textiles Partners / Stakeholders Arts Council Collection, National Trust Budget 6,380 Development 10 months Dates 12 June – 15 December 2012
Greyfriars is a unique house with a varied history, and unusually none of the contents of the house are original. During the early twentieth century the house was rescued from demolition by siblings Matley and Elsie Moore and the house is a testimony to their ingenuity and strikingly modern approach to restoration, which involved recycling and recreating materials from other historic houses.
Key pieces from the Arts Council Collection were selected to highlight and juxtapose the many decorative objects in the house, particularly the textiles and materials reworked by Matley and Elsie Moore. Recycling and reuse of materials were strong themes throughout the exhibition and Everything Old was Once New complemented the story and history of the restoration of the house.
Everything Old was Once New was part of a nationwide collaboration between Trust New Art and the Arts Council Collection aiming to ‘place new artwork in traditional and historic settings, to keep them inspiring and alive’.
It was important that Everything Old was Once New fitted in with the National Trust Strategy ‘Bringing Places to Life’ which aims to provide a different visitor experience, to challenge the norm of Greyfriars and raise awareness of local history. The main objectives for the exhibition were to:
- Increase visitor numbers, and consequently, catering and retail throughout 2012, and extend the visitor season.
- Promote Greyfriars as a venue for the community and a place to stage exhibitions.
- Make the most of the strengths of the property - which include the strong mediaeval and 17th century context, interesting and unusual walled garden, peaceful and ‘lived in’ atmosphere, strong and positive volunteer support, a large population on the door step, accessible location and strong stories/history to tell about previous occupants.
- Create greater scope for interpretation.
- Make use of under-utilised rooms.
- Promote both membership and the work of National Trust in a city centre site.
The development process took approximately 10 months, with the majority of time spent selecting appropriate works and considering the installation of works at the house, and included site visits by curators and technicians.
All works were selected from the Arts Council Collection and the choice of works and their placing in the house was carefully considered from a practical, aesthetic and thematic perspective. New Perspex covers, backings and plinths were made and adapted, integrating the works seamlessly into Greyfriars’ own collection. Wall works were hung using existing fixings so that no new holes were drilled into the walls and Anya Gallaccio’s work (which included decaying flowers) had a specially constructed tray to catch residue. A technician who had previous experience of working with contemporary art in historic properties worked with the Arts Council technician to install the work.
It was critical for the audience’s engagement with the exhibition that the volunteers at Greyfriars were supportive of the project. The majority of volunteers are within the 55-65 age range and could be considered ‘traditional’ in their views. These voluntary guides were clearly briefed about the works and their relevance to the property in a series of training days and although some were initially unhappy about the idea of introducing contemporary art into ‘their’ house particularly when artists such as Tracey Emin were discussed, others were really excited about the idea of introducing a different element and enhancing the visitor experience.
Sculpture, paintings, prints and textiles from the Arts Council Collection were selected and installed creating parallels and associations between the works and the interiors and collections within the house. A number of works resonated with the traditional craft techniques at Greyfriars such as Simon Periton’s intricate fragile ‘doily’ work SP 1995 (Foil paper), which echoed the decorative pattern of the adjacent leather screen. The screen was made of rescued seventeenth century leather and both the screen and the leather revealed the skills of craftsmanship. The careful fashioning of Claire Barclay’s Untitled (turned pole) 1996 (Wood) suggested a domestic object, however its function was unclear, this ambiguity reinforced by the perfection with which it was made. It was placed adjacent to a pair of lamps made out of bedposts, The Untitled (turned pole) showing the same level of craftsmanship and imaginative re-use of unwanted materials.
This re-use and recycling of materials is revealed throughout Greyfriars, and the introduction of selected works from the Arts Council Collection enabled this to be emphasised and enhanced. Christine Borland’s Blanket Used on Police Firing Range, Berlin: Repaired 1993 (Wool) is a blanket peppered with bullets from a Berlin police force firing range, with the bullet holes carefully darned by Borland, introducing an element of domesticity to the work and highlighting the lacerations. This piece was installed near the bedroom walls at Greyfriars that are covered with large pieces of seventeenth century crewel-work hangings that Elsie Matley-Moore rescued, cutting out the good bits and darning all the holes. Edward Higgins White III 2011 (Embroidery) by Alek O. is a collection of gloves lost on the streets of the London unravelled and embroidered onto canvas. The resulting abstract composition of rows organized in the chronological order in which the gloves were found reflects the re-interpretation of textiles as well as Worcester’s connection with glove making. In Aurora 13 1995-96 (Oil on reverse of furnishing fabric) Louise Hopkins has painted on the reverse of an upholstery fabric printed commercially with a ‘tasteful’ floral pattern of the type which has been popular in homes since Victorian times, and in situ reflected Elsie Matley-Moore’s inventive use of materials.
Some works made strong references to the history and matter of textiles, Mittens and Moth Eggs 2000 (Digital archive ink jet print) by Kathy Prendergast evoked the noiseless destruction of moth infestation as a pair of knitted mittens are shown starting to unravel after being eaten by moths- one of the most common threats to textiles within the collection. The hair in Hair Bonnet 1997 (Human hair) was purchased by artist Kathy Prendergast to match her own in colour and was spun and then knitted to create a hat out of the very thing it is designed to cover. This was one of the more challenging works in the exhibition, and was installed next to 19th century locks of hair from the family at Greyfriars - human hair traditionally used much more frequently in mourning brooches and as family mementoes. In the drawings of Peter Peri, the minute details of form in microscopic detail are examined and translated using obsessive, time-consuming graphite lines into highly detailed drawings of abstract shapes. Projection 1 2003 (Graphite on paper) was chosen due to its amazing resemblance to a microscopic view of a textile thread. The larva of the Colorado beetle is very destructive to the potato, and Mark Wallinger’s King Edward and the Colorado Beetle 2000 (Potato print) shows the destructive nature of pests which are dealt with on a regular basis within National Trust properties.
Other works responded directly to the interior of the house; referencing the painted doors that the Moore's were given, Anya Gallaccio’ s Can love remember the question and the answer 2003 (Wood, glass, flowers) consisted of sixty red Gerbera flowers inserted and left to decompose behind the windowpanes of a pair of old mahogany doors. Richard Woods Renovated Carpet No. 1 (Burgundy) 1997 (Gloss paint and PVA on wool, hessian and rubber) rendered dysfunctional by a covering of paint, showed a strong resonance to the curtains in the gallery where Elsie Matley-Moore transformed plain fabric into a decorative curtain. Although Greyfriars is now open to the public, it was not originally a house intended for display, it was a family home and the Moores recreated the house to be lived in, Tracey Emin’s The Simple Truth 1995 (Wool) was also not created as a work for display but simply to serve as a bedspread in her hotel room and at Greyfriars was displayed on an antique bed within the house - a stark contrast to the white cube spaces in which Emin’s works are usually exhibited.
The overall budget for the project was £6380, which funded insurance, installation, transport, volunteer training, events and marketing- with approximately £5500 going towards installation/transport and marketing costs. Arts Council Collection provided the free loan of artworks and an installation technician, and they worked collaboratively with Greyfriars to write the text for the booklet, which was funded by Greyfriars, along with additional marketing material, opening events costs, transport and technician.
Marketing consisted of publicity in national and regional newsletters/magazines, and press coverage was achieved through magazine adverts, press releases and press packs. Printed material included a regional promotional leaflet and information on the Arts Council Collection website as well regional social media updates. A series of events were also organised to formally introduce the exhibition and included an Artists’ Day, a launch event for volunteers, an event for the local community, a private view and a curators’ day that included a presentation by Tom Freshwater - Contemporary Art Programme Manager at the National Trust.
The aim of the exhibition was to engage new audiences with contemporary art, to display works in unexpected surroundings and to provide a fresh perspective on the history of the house. To help inform visitors about the work on show, an Information Pack was created, and a printed booklet was handed out. Written interpretation was available throughout the exhibition and training and daily briefings were given to volunteers to familiarise them with the artworks so that they could further assist with the audience engagement.
The feedback from visitors was positive and the participating artists were very pleased about their work being exhibited in a new and unusual setting.
Visitor feedback was recorded through comments cards, surveys and emails and to further highlight the recycling and re-use theme of the exhibition the 3,000 booklets that were printed were recycled, so that visitors who did not want to keep it could vote for their favourite artwork by placing the booklet in a voting box at the exit. During the period of the exhibition there were over 9,000 visitors and only ten booklets left at the end of December.
There was a significant increase in visitor numbers to Greyfriars during 2011/12, which was not found across other properties during the same period.
Engaging New Audiences - A positive outcome was the appreciation of the contemporary artworks by members of the heritage audience. The most successful examples of this occurred with artworks that strongly resonated with the context and site in which they were exhibited.
Being Prepared - For the Arts Council Collection working outside a white cube gallery environment required careful preparation in order to forsee and deal with unexpected problems arising from the installation of work within a historic property.
Skills - The importance of working with trained fine art technicians was critical and worked well at Greyfriars where the technician had experience of working with other arts organisation’s and installing contemporary artworks.
Volunteers - Engaging the volunteers was essential to the success of the project, and was helped by detailed explanations about each of the contemporary works – outlining why they had been selected and sited within the property and how they revealed the story of the house in a different light.
Marketing - One of the biggest challenges for the project was trying to adapt the traditional ‘National Trust’ style and formatting in the marketing, to appeal to a broader contemporary art audience.
Budget - A lesson learnt in the budgeting of the project has been the need to establish the real costs of each process before outlining a final budget- as the transportation costs were significantly higher than anticipated.
The Arts Council Collection will be working with a further 2 National Trust properties in 2013;
Upton House and Gardens, Warwickshire, 28 September 2013- 26 April 2014. This will focus on Lord Bearsted’s association with the Whitechapel in the 40s and 50s, and will include historical works such as Lowry, Prunella Clough, William Scott, Keith Vaughan, Duncan Grant.
STILL/life ecologies of perception at Tyntesfield, Bristol 6 September- 31 December 2013, which will Include Peter Fraser, Mark Neville, Edwin Li, Margaret Salmon, Toby Ziegler.
Anya Gallaccio - http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/anya-gallaccio-2658
Simon Periton - www.sadiecoles.com/SimonPeriton
Louise Hopkins - http://louisehopkins.com
Richard Woods - www.richardwoodsstudio.com
Claire Barclay - www.stephenfriedman.com/claire-barclay
Alek O - http://www.artuner.com/artists/alek-o/
Christine Borland - http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/christine-borland-2702
Tracey Emin - www.traceyeminstudio.com
Mark Wallinger - http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/mark-wallinger-2378
Kathy Prendergast - www.kerlin.ie/kathy-prendergast
Peter Peri - http://www.alminerech.com/artists/164-peter-peri