A MAJOR art installation by one of the UK’s most celebrated artists is coming to Sunderland.
Field for the British Isles by Sir Antony Gormley, creator of the Angel of the North, will be on display at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA) at National Glass Centre from July until September this year.
The monumental installation comprises 40,000 small clay figures and was last in the region 25 years ago when it was on display at the former Greenesfield British Rail Works in Gateshead. More than 25,000 people flocked to the exhibition.
The artwork will be on loan from the prestigious Arts Council Collection, an important national loan collection of modern and contemporary British Art. Sunderland Culture is part of the Collection’s National Partners Programme which supports regional galleries and museums to present and curate exhibitions drawn from the Collection.
The project has been made possible thanks to an £18,000 grant from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund, and supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, the Weston Loan Programme is the first ever UK-wide funding scheme to enable regional museums to borrow works of art and artefacts from national collections.
Field for the British Isles was chosen by Sunderland Culture’s Art Champions, a group of nine local people with no formal arts training but a passion and interest to discover more about modern and contemporary art.
Last winter, the Art Champions were introduced to the Arts Council Collection; visiting the Collection Stores where they handled figures from Field for the British Isles and learnt about the use of community collaborators in its creation. On completing the artwork in 1993, Gormley specified it had to be installed with help from volunteers co-ordinated by the host venue – to instill a sense of ownership in the project. Encountering the work provoked a strong response in Sunderland’s Art Champions, and led to the request to bring the installation to the city.
It will be the first time Gormley has exhibited in Sunderland.
Alastair Robinson, Director at NGCA, said: “We’re thrilled that such a major installation is coming to the city, and Fields for the British Isles will be the centrepiece of Sunderland Culture’s summer programme to attract audiences from Wearside and across the North East.
“This year marks the NGCA’s 50th anniversary and this is such a marvellous way to mark that milestone. It will also be the first exhibition of sculpture in our new 2,500sq ft gallery at National Glass Centre. I have to say Sunderland Culture’s Art Champions have chosen very wisely – this is a real coup for the city.
“The Art Champions will be genuinely creatively engaged and supported to become advocates for this work, showcased through film and photography.”
Each one of the installation’s 40,000 figures is unique and simply fashioned, with holes for eyes. The figures completely occupy the space in which they are installed, filling the space so the viewer can look at the figures, but cannot enter the space they occupy. The installation is sited with only a single viewpoint.
Sophia Weston, Trustee of the Garfield Weston Foundation, said: “It is wonderful to see this major installation by one of our best loved contemporary artists return to the North East for the first time in 25 years, and all the more meaningful because it was chosen by Sunderland Culture’s local Art Champions. We are delighted to be able to support this project through our Weston Loan Programme, which is dedicated to supporting regional organisations to secure important loans just like this one.”
Deborah Smith, Director, Arts Council Collection, added: “We are delighted that there has been so much interest in showing Gormley’s Field for the British Isles, a work which continues to resonate with communities across the country. It’s wonderful news that through the Art Fund’s Weston Loan Programme, Gormley’s 40,000 terracotta figures will be going to Sunderland, returning 25 years after its first preview in the North East and sparking new conversations in contemporary art.”
Sir David Bell KCB, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland, said: “We are honoured and delighted that Field for the British Isles is coming to the University of Sunderland’s National Glass Centre this year.
“It is testament to the increasing attractiveness of Sunderland as a place for both creative endeavour and outstanding visiting exhibitions. Undoubtedly too, this is a further boost to Sunderland Culture, a nationally innovative organisation that brings together a range of partners who want to realise the ambition to make this a booming city for creativity and the arts.”
The exhibition will open on July 9, 2021 and be on display for nine weeks. A rich programme built around Field for the British Isles will be delivered for schools and families. A pre-exhibition creative project with primary schools will encourage and promote family visits, while activities inspired by the work of Gormley will be developed for the summer programme, including four family ceramics workshops, two Family Days, takeaway ceramics kits and a digital/print exhibition resource.