FEATURE: Hatton Gallery Reopening | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Richard Hamilton in Kings College, Newcastle 1963 (c) National Art Education Association

It’s fair to say that most of our local galleries exist within the formidable shade of Gateshead’s BALTIC: of course, this isn’t to say that such institutions are unworthy of our attention – merely overlooked and, at times, underrated. Hatton Gallery, however, has recently been catapulted from this fog of obscurity, after receiving a princely sum of funding from the national lottery (£3.8 million). After 20 long months, a dash of ponderous reminiscing and some major renovations, the Hatton is due to re-open this month, with the ultimate aim of celebrating both its exciting history and invigorating present.

“The Hatton has played a unique role in the development of British art, with its history ultimately entwined with some of the most influential artists of the 20th century,” Explains chief curator Julie Milne. “The building was opened in 1912 as the Edward VII School of Art and included a gallery space at the front, which remains the first gallery space of the Hatton today.

“With the outbreak of war in August 1914, all of the University buildings (including the art school) were taken over for hospital use until October 1919 – the front room gallery became a hospital ward. After the war, Richard George Hatton, who had been appointed the first Professor of Art in 1917, organised occasional exhibitions in the gallery. Hatton remained head of the Art School until his death in 1926, after which time the gallery was named after him and continued to show temporary exhibitions, concerts and performances. In 1965, the Hatton made what is probably the most unique and important addition to its collection by acquiring the Merz Barn Wall by Kurt Schwitters. The Wall is the final and only surviving example of Schwitters constructed Merz installation works.”

From a place of art to a gruesome, war-torn hospital and back again, the Hatton continued to flourish throughout the years as a place for art school graduates to exhibit their work. Throughout it’s lifetime, the Hatton has played host to a number of household names, from poignant war heroes to old hollywood glitz.

“More recently, we hosted an exhibition named Screaming Steel: Art, War and Trauma 1914-18. It explored the impact of conflict on some of the most important British artists and writers of the 20th century: work by Paul Nash, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen was shown alongside German artists Otto Dix and George Grosz.” Continues Julie. “We also had Marilyn Monroe : A British Love Affair (2014), which centered around photographs and magazine covers from 1947 to 1962, celebrating the transformation of the world’s most popular pin-up to acclaimed actress.”

Most people think Pop Art started in the USA with Andy Warhol – it didn’t. In reality, a lot of the work behind it was happening in the UK – not just in London, but also in Newcastle

Now, however, the sturdy old gallery has undertaken quite the transformation. Whilst the original facets of Edwardian architecture have been beautifully restored and enhanced, facilities have been improved and thoroughly modernised, ensuring an utterly flexible exhibition space for all manner of new and traditional works. Best of all, a new multi-purpose learning space has been installed at the heart of the gallery, allowing students, children or art-lovers of any age to learn and express themselves freely. The archive element of this space is particularly exciting, according to Julie.

“Of course, this new space allows painting, drawing, digital art, animation art, craft and design as well as the hosting of lectures and film screenings for individuals and community groups. However, it also boasts a new archive research space, ensuring that researchers, students and the general public can engage with the gallery collections and archive material. The Hatton’s diverse collection has over 3,000 works from the 14th – 20th centuries, after all!”

Luckily, this gallery – long with a handful of others, such as SIDE and the Tyneside – has been fortunate enough to continue moving forward and expanding upon a diverse history. The same cannot be said for smaller institutions within the city, whose futures remain increasingly uncertain.

When quizzed on the Hatton’s winning attributes, Julie expresses nothing but passion and gratitude for donors. “The gallery is recognised as an important heritage asset regionally and nationally- with a unique history and role within the development of art education, the redevelopment enables us to share the heritage story of the Hatton but also reflect upon how the legacy of this history still has an impact on the work of artists today.”

Of course, the folks at Hatton aren’t just celebrating their own heritage – in their latest exhibition Pioneers of Pop, they aim to raise a glass to the whole of the North East and it’s hidden Pop Art history.

“Most people think Pop Art started in the USA with Andy Warhol – it didn’t. In reality, a lot of the work behind it was happening in the UK – not just in London, but also in Newcastle.” explains Julie. “So, this latest exhibition embodies the excitement and experimentation of the ‘First age of Pop’. From the early 1950s, the post-war flood of American art and popular culture created a sense that, in art, anything was possible – Pioneers of Pop seeks to capture that exact moment through the lens of Newcastle, and it’s progressive, stimulating art school.”

The newly refurbished Hatton Gallery is set to re-launch with Pioneers of Pop on Saturday 7th October.


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