Arts Council-funded £60m gallery closes after two days

LONDON. The Public Gallery in West Bromwich closed just two days after its grand opening in June because of technical problems with the high-tech art installations. The Will Alsop-designed arts centre cost £60m, nearly half what it cost to open Tate Modern in 2000.

National press material put out in mid-June for the opening of The Public had quoted director Marlene Smith, saying that she was “delighted to confirm the scheduled opening of Public Gallery” on 28 June. No indication was given of problems with the art gallery or with the permanent installations.

The Public opened for its inaugural weekend on 28-29 June, but on Monday morning the doors of the gallery were quietly closed. The ground floor, with the café and performance space, have remained open.

Following our inquiries, The Public eventually issued a statement on 8 August: “Public Gallery is the most technologically advanced facility of its kind in the UK. Given the pioneering nature of this project and the many interdependent installation complexities involved, completion is taking longer than originally scheduled.”

“A fundamental part of our commitment to deliver an outstanding visitor experience prevents us from opening to paying customers until we are satisfied that each element and exhibit has been tested to a level of excellence. We will, however, announce our first full day of trading at the first possible opportunity.” In the meantime, local residents are being invited to book free “testing” sessions to help The Public’s staff ensure that the interactive works of art operate properly.

The inaugural temporary exhibition, a video entitled “Les Portraits des Histoires” by Esther Shalev-Gerz, is also closed.

The idea for the arts centre dates back to 1993, but it has been plagued by a series of delays (The Art Newspaper, June 2008, p6). Building work began in 2003, when costs were estimated at £39m. Problems developed and in March 2006 The Public was declared insolvent, and was then rescued with further financial support. On 9 July this year Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council agreed to give a final £3m, to “complete” the project. This brings the council’s total contribution to nearly £18m, making it the second largest funder after the Arts Council, which put in £26.5m.

The Public Gallery told us that it will reopen this month, although no date has been given. In the meantime, the absence of paying visitors (at £6.95 a head) will exacerbate its financial difficulties.

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