When I visit a gallery for an exhibition, I always take a look around to see what their permanent collections have on offer. If you haven’t read it yet, I recently visited the Graves Gallery in Sheffield for the exhibition Received Dissent: An American Mail Art Project. Here I am going to offer up my opinions about the gallery, artworks, and visitor experience at the Graves Gallery – enjoy!
One of the first things I noticed when I walked into the main collection space at the Graves Gallery was the generosity of information about each artwork. After visiting their exhibition, this was refreshing! Each label offered a gem of information that you’d be unlikely to know otherwise. As you probably know, I think that insightful information about the artworks we’re looking at makes it so much more enjoyable, and the Graves Gallery have done this very well throughout the collection. The first room you come into is ‘Sculptors’ Works on Paper’, which is a refreshing take on artistic studies that are genuinely enjoyable to look at. One of my favourites is Frank Owen Dobson’s sketch, ‘Nude’, 1947. The female form is palpably soft, and you gain a visual understanding of how the sculptor could translate the delicate curves of her skin into a tactile medium.
There are several big-name artists who the gallery is obviously very proud of. The second room is ‘Abstraction’, and the jewel of this collection is Grayson Perry’s ‘Comfort Blanket’, 2014, which you might recognise as an enormous patriotic tapestry centred around portrait of a smiling Queen Elizabeth. In the centre of the room is Mark Quinn’s sculpture ‘Kiss’. Caroline Long and Mat Fraser modelled for this artwork as they were both born with limb deformities. It is a challenging and modern take on classical sculpture, which directly contrasts Rodin’s 19th century marble also called ‘The Kiss’. Other notable artists in this room include Damien Hirst, Paul Morrison, and Bridget Riley, which makes for an eclectic but enjoyable modern art experience. The layout of these first two rooms is simple, but successful and overall, they are visitor friendly.
“A huge selling point for the Graves Gallery is that their collection and exhibitions are free to the public.”
Anybody would agree that it seems strange to make a display intentionally chronological, and then interrupt the theme with random insertions of works which are completely out of place. The last two rooms in the permanent collection of the Graves Gallery appear to me a little bit like the curator has given up or got bored with the chronology, and tried to spice it up. I would say it hasn’t worked. One room in which the paintings are lumped together under ‘Stories and Symbols in Art from the 18th and 19th Century’ is particularly striking. Two religious paintings that are hundreds of years old, Gerome’s ‘Execution of Marshall Ney’, 1868, and James Barry’s ‘Jupiter Beguiled by Juno on Mount Ida’, 1795, are displayed either side of a modern photo print: Chloe Dew Matthews’ ‘Soldaat Jean Raes’, 2014, which to me bears no relevance to the room’s theme and interrupts the flow of the surrounding paintings. It’s a bizarre choice.
Despite the eclectic curation of the Graves Gallery permanent collection, most artworks are effectively displayed. I was particularly impressed with the Abstraction room, which has been well curated to successfully show off some of the collection’s best works.
The overall layout of the gallery can seem a little dated, but I would recommend a visit – despite being a small gallery, the collection houses an incredibly high-quality selection of artworks from a range of periods and genres. There is something for everyone here! A huge selling point for the Graves Gallery is that both their collection and exhibitions are free to the public. This is amazing! Today the art world is inundated by high ticket prices, so it’s great that the gallery is keeping art accessible to everyone. Overall, the Graves Gallery is a wonderful example of a high quality small collection that must not be missed.