Preston’s Harris Museum Wins £40,000 CAS Award for Nathaniel Mellors Collaboration

Receiving the CAS Award at The Barbican, London are (l to r) Alex Walker (Head of Arts & Heritage) and Clarissa Corfe (Exhibitions Officer), Harris Museum & Art Gallery; Nathaniel Mellors; Councillor Veronica Afrin, Preston City Council © Sophie Mutevilian

Receiving the CAS Award at The Barbican, London are (l to r) Alex Walker (Head of Arts & Heritage) and Clarissa Corfe (Exhibitions Officer), Harris Museum & Art Gallery; Nathaniel Mellors; Councillor Veronica Afrin, Preston City Council © Sophie Mutevilian

The Contemporary Art Society Annual Award 2014 has been presented to CVAN NW members the Harris Museum & Art Gallery in Preston, to enable a new artwork by Nathaniel Mellors.

The £40,000 prize is supported by the Sfumato Foundation, and gives a regional museum the chance to commission a major new artwork by an artist, not yet well represented in this country’s museum collections, which will become part of that museum’s permanent collection.

Described by Contemporary Art Society chairman Christopher Jonas as, “An award for the potential for future work to be carried out in collaboration between a museum and an artist,” the four shortlisted proposals this year included the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art with Marvin Gaye Chetwynd; the Whitworth Art Gallery with Martin Boyce; and Leeds Art Gallery with Becky Beasley.

The winning proposal from the Harris Museum and Nathaniel Mellors will result in a new work that combines fiction, sculpture, performance and film, set in Preston’s monumental and brutalist bus station. It will be the first acquisition of Mellors’ work by a public institution in the UK.

Caroline Douglas, director of the Contemporary Art Society, said: “In a year with exceptionally strong applications for the Award, the Harris Museum proposal with Nathaniel Mellors was outstanding. Nathaniel Mellors’ work connects with a tradition of absurdist and satirical film making in Britain that includes such figures as Lindsay Anderson and Derek Jarman. I am delighted that the Award will enable the production of a substantial new work within Mellors’ oeuvre, and one that links so directly to the city it will be made in.”

The work will continue Mellors’ Ourhouse series, which has previously featured British acting talent such as Richard Bremner (Control, Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone) and Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thones, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) alongside local performers in supporting roles. His videos, sculptures, performances and writings challenge notions of taste, morality and intelligence, and working with the Harris Museum Nathaniel proposes a work featuring a neanderthal and potentially cannibal tribe, existing inside a dilapidated cinema, itself inside Preston Bus Station:

Tom Morton, Contributing Editor to Frieze and one of the award panellists, said: "Nathaniel Mellors is a rare and vital voice in contemporary British art. His fantastic - and fantastical - proposal stood out, even in a very strong field.

“The Harris Museum’s ambition in working with this bold and uncompromising artist is to be applauded. I look forward to seeing their collaboration bear fruit.”

The Harris Museum & Art Gallery in Preston is one of the leading museums in the north west. Housed in a grade I listed building in the heart of the city, it features contemporary art, fine art, decorative art and historic collections of national importance.

The Harris open in 1893, and in recent years has developed an increasingly ambitious programme of international commissions and exhibitions, aiming to bring the highest quality work to Lancashire. It was a founder gallery member of the Contemporary Art Society and is a member of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network, as well a major tourist attraction, welcoming 220,000 visitors per year.

"I had been following Nathaniel’s practice for a few years, he is an extraordinary artist,” said Clarissa Corfe who curates the contemporary art programme, “I had always wanted to commission a new film by him so when the opportunity came to apply to the Contemporary Art Society Award, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something really ambitious. I will be including the film in an exhibition that I am curating at the museum in Spring 2016 that uses the Theatre of the Absurd as a starting point."

Nathaniel Mellors said: “The support and faith in my work that this award represents is impossible to put a price on, particularly from such a strong shortlist. It is a unique opportunity to consolidate recent developments in my practice and pull out some deeper weirdness, both with my amazing collaborators and through the extraordinary locations in and around Preston.”

Councillor Veronica Afrin, Cabinet Member for Culture & Leisure Services at Preston City Council said: “Nathaniel Mellors is a prestigious and fascinating artist, and we are immensely proud to be working with him on this major commission. His unique imagination and approach to film making will enable him to draw on and re-imagine the museum’s collections and the fabric of city, cementing Preston’s growing reputation as a centre for high quality cultural activity.”

The Contemporary Art Society Award was presented by Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed at a ceremony in London, and you can watch a short film from the event below.