UK government plans gallery for its off-duty art

A selection of the 14,000 works in the Government Art Collection will be on show

by Martin Bailey  |  9 February 2017
UK government plans gallery for its off-duty art
In an unusual venture, some Government Art Collection works were temporarily displayed at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2011-12 (Image: Crown copyright. Photo: Tony Harris. Courtesy of the Government Art Collection and the Whitechapel Gallery)
The UK’s Government Art Collection (GAC) plans to set up its own gallery. This will open up a huge collection of 14,000 works, mainly by British artists, which is not easily accessible.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which oversees the GAC, says that the collection’s offices and stores will be moved to new premises in London which should include a “display space that everyone will be able to enjoy”. Entry will presumably be free. The location and timing have not yet been announced.

At present, the collection is stored in Queen’s Yard, just off Tottenham Court Road, in central London. The stores are not environmentally controlled to museum standards, which is another reason for the move.

There is limited access to the collection. Bookable tours are held to show a small number of works hanging on the walls or in racked storage, but there is no proper display space. Individual works are lent to outside exhibitions and in recent years there have been a few shows of highlights in outside venues, such as London’s Whitechapel Gallery in 2011-12.

Of the 14,000 works, around one-third are in store, with most of the remainder hanging in 100 government offices in the UK and 270 offices abroad, where there is very limited public access.  

Over the past decade, there has been mounting pressure for greater public access to the GAC, since it is funded by the taxpayer. In the Liberal Democrats’ 2010 general election manifesto, the party promised to “open up the Government Art Collection for greater public use”. Last year, the then Labour shadow secretary for culture, media and sport, Michael Dugher, said that only “a privileged few” could see the works.

When Penny Johnson took over as the director of the GAC in 1997, she wrote that it is “not a public collection”, partly because ”it has no gallery where it can display its wares”. That now looks set to change.

• This article appeared in the February issue of The Art Newspaper 

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