@A_C_Collection / #ACC70 /

The Arts Council Collection, the UK’s most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art, is pleased to announce plans for marking its 70th anniversary during 2016. The celebrations will include 8 new commissions that will go on display across the UK - the first one opening tomorrow - and two new touring exhibitions, Night at the Museum, curated by Ryan Gander, and Drawn from Life: People on Paper.

The 8 artists who are making new work for the Arts Council Collection’s 70th Anniversary Commissions are:  John Akomfrah, Hurvin Anderson, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Ryan Gander, Mark Leckey, Katie Paterson, Heather Phillipson and Keith Piper. The commissions will open at different venues across the UK throughout 2016 before becoming a permanent part of the Arts Council Collection where they will be available for loan to museums, galleries and other spaces nationally and internationally. Half of the artists selected for the commissions - John Akomfrah, Hurvin Anderson, Katie Paterson and Heather Phillipson - will be joining the Collection for the first time, the others contributing major new works.  

John Akomfrah’s Tropikos is the first commission to open tomorrow, Saturday 16 January, at Arnolfini in Bristol (until Sunday 10 April). The work is an experimental costume drama set in the sixteenth century, focusing on the waterways of the South West of England and their relationship to the slave trade. Though a fictional narrative, the film is placed in an historic period when Britain’s position as a global, seafaring power coincided with the enforced displacement of millions of African people across the Atlantic, thus delivering a timely and potent reminder of the current issues around global migration and the refugee crisis.

The Arts Council Collection will premiere two new touring exhibitions in its anniversary year: Night In the Museum (16 July – 16 October 2016), curated by artist Ryan Gander, will open at Longside Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park on 16 July (until 16 October 2016). Gander has selected a range of figurative sculptures with an active gaze, positioning them in the gallery so that they can observe major examples of modern and contemporary British art. Gander’s selection will provide a fresh perspective of the Arts Council Collection and an alternative view of recent British art, one which offers new narratives and unlikely correspondences. More details of the exhibition will be announced in spring 2016.

Drawing from Life: People on Paper, opening at The Collection in Lincoln on 26 February (until 17 April 2016) before touring, will bring together some of the finest drawings in the Arts Council Collection, from the beginning of the early twentieth century to the present. The exhibition will feature surprising examples from very early on in artists’ careers, such as a self-portrait by Richard Hamilton from 1939, the carefully drawn Mrs Ash Asleep by Howard Hodgkin from 1952, Peter Blake’s Portrait of a Man from 1950 and Eduardo Paolozzi’s Drawings from Rembrandt, 1945.

2016 will also see the launch of the National Partners Programme, a new scheme to support the artistic ambitions of a new constellation of partner galleries, deepening the Collection’s long-standing relationship with key museums and galleries around the country. The Collection will be working with these new partners to present a series of touring exhibitions, significantly increasing audiences for the Collection. The National Partners Programme will be announced on 29 January.

Jill Constantine, Head of the Arts Council Collection, said: “The Arts Council Collection may be 70 years old but never has it felt so young, vibrant and exciting. Our 70th anniversary commissions demonstrate what we do best - putting artists at the heart of the Collection. We are thrilled that the artists, half of whom are joining the Collection for the first time, will all be represented by such significant pieces. Their works will be seen and enjoyed by the broadest possible audience – when they first go on display during 2016, and beyond as they are made available for loan to galleries and museums across the country. A special thanks goes to Ryan Gander who in addition to his commission, has agreed to curate Night in the Museum, a new exhibition celebrating the range and quality of the Arts Council Collection’s holdings opening in our Longside Gallery at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in July.”

Peter Heslip, Director of Visual Arts, Arts Council England, said: ”2016 promises to be an important year for the Collection as it marks 70 years of getting great art to everyone. The new artist commissions highlight the role it has played supporting the best of British talent. Initial demand for these new pieces has been strong and we look forward to them inspiring the public for years to come.”

John Akomfrah, Arts Council Collection 70th Anniversary Commissions artist, said: “I’ve always admired the Arts Council Collection from a distance; it’s a collection that reflects the myriad and complex make-up of the nation.  It has become an indispensable and first-call collection for many galleries and museums around the UK and beyond, which is so important for all of the artists in the collection.  As it reaches this milestone in its history, I feel very honoured to have been chosen to complete a work for this unique anniversary.”

Bridget Riley, Arts Council Collection artist, said: “The Arts Council Collection purchased ‘Movement in Squares’ from my first exhibition in 1962. This was a most surprising and encouraging event. It was my first acquisition by a public collection. It made me feel that I had indeed at last found my way.”

Antony Gormley, Arts Council Collection artist, said: “The Arts Council Collection remains the most important national collection of contemporary art in Britain and it is a resource for a wide ranging set of curated exhibitions that really reach out to the whole of the nation and expose very different publics to the excitingly varied and diverse work of this country’s artists. The objects in the Collection present both administrative and practical challenges and none more so than my work FIELD FOR THE BRITISH ISLES. I am humbled and honoured that the Arts Council Collection took it on and that they continue to make it available to communities all over the country. I will never forget seeing FIELD reflected in the mirrored pillars of an old supermarket in Colchester, under the perpendicular vaults of Gloucester Cathedral cloisters, in the haunting environment of the old carriage works in Gateshead, against the verdant landscape of a 19th century park in Wakefield - and most recently in a very fully adapted church in Scunthorpe. I cannot imagine a better collection for FIELD to exist in than the Arts Council Collection and it is a huge privilege to be part of it. I trust and hope that this important reservoir of the fruits of this country's unique creativity continues robustly, well into the 21st century.”

Heather Phillipson, Arts Council Collection 70th Anniversary Commissions artist, said: "I was delighted to be commissioned to create a new work and am especially honoured to be entering the Arts Council Collection as part of their 70th anniversary celebrations".

Roger Hiorns, Arts Council Collection artist, said: “The spine and the backbone of national art is the Arts Council Collection. It collects artists at a young age and supports them at a tender time, usually broke and up against it. In the early stages of establishing who knows what, the Arts Council Collection made it clear that it wanted to talk seriously and collect liberally with a wide and enlightened mind. A rare thing today. My work, 'Seizure' was allowed to carry on by this enlightened ideal of a collection. 'Saved for the nation' was always an epithet that seemed premature for an artist of my age, but they had the foresight to challenge orthodoxy and protect a work now beyond my reach.”

Ryan Gander, Arts Council Collection 70th Anniversary Commissions artist, said: “It’s nice to know that if you sell a work, it goes to a nice home. The Arts Council Collection is based on the ideal that works should be safeguarded and seen. It feels like the perfect home.”

Mark Wallinger, Arts Council Collection artist, said: "The Arts Council Collection has made a unique and valuable contribution to the lives and careers of artists working in this country. By consistently identifying key early works by the best emerging talents, it gives the encouragement and kudos so crucial to those struggling to make a start in a precarious profession. And this is merely the beginning. The Collection acquired by work, 'Angel', in 1997, since then it has been exhibited in no less than 22 different galleries the length and breadth of this country. I can't tell you the amount of people I bump into who cite seeing this work."

Richard Deacon, Arts Council Collection artist, said: “For young artists, entry into the Arts Council collection has often been a vital early step in their developing careers. In their maturity, further acquisition enriches their representation and fleshes out the collection. The collection itself is a hugely important resource and hard worked trove, accessible and well cared for, the backbone of countless exhibitions throughout the country.”

Established in 1946 to promote and enrich knowledge of modern and contemporary art, the Arts Council Collection supports British artists and artists resident in the UK through the purchase and display of their work. With nearly 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it fosters the widest possible access to modern and contemporary art in the UK through long term loans to public institutions, exhibition loans, touring exhibitions and digital and print publications.

In 2015 works from the Collection were seen by over 2 million exhibition visitors across the country, including in Arts Council Collection curated touring exhibitions and others. In addition, an estimated 4 million people encountered an Arts Council Collection work on display in public institutions including hospitals, schools, universities and charitable institutions.  The Collection, managed by Southbank Centre, on behalf of Arts Council England, also has an ongoing digitisation programme and at present 90% of the collection is available to view online with the remaining 10%, predominantly sculpture, to be digitised over the next two year.

The new initiatives in the anniversary year will further increase the Arts Council Collection’s reach, enabling as many people as possible to encounter works by  the most established modern and contemporary artists working in Britain and beyond, as well as future greats.