More Tate of the North

600,000 visitors a year and £3.8 million from the National Lottery


Refurbishment work, that will see an extra thirty percent of the building brought into use, has started on the Tate Gallery, Liverpool. The gallery, at the Albert Dock warehouse complex on Liverpool’s waterfront, has attracted three times the anticipated number of visitors, and now averages 600,000 visits per year. Expansion onto the fourth floor will allow new display space, particularly for sculpture, an auditorium, seminar rooms, an education suite, audio visual room and information areas. Ground floor development will include the redesign of the entrance, shop and cafe, and disabled access will be substantially improved.

“The great thing about the new space is that we will be able to show larger scale sculpture because the fourth floor has the roof space, where the other floors have lower ceiling heights”, says gallery spokeswoman Catherine Braithwaite. There are also fewer pillars on the fourth floor—floors in the nineteenth-century warehouse construction were supported by cast iron beams and pillars—so sightlines will not be interrupted in the new space as they can be on the lower floors.

The gallery, which opened in 1988, curates touring and short-term modern art exhibitions but part of its role is to show key works from the national collection on a longer term basis that would otherwise not be seen. Its highly successful outreach department will also benefit from the new space. Projects such as Gormely’s “Field for the British Isles”, made by Merseyside people from St Helen’s, have involved local communities, colleges, and schools. “The space will enable us to do more projects like this, and one called “Testing the water” at the Young Tate, which requires young people aged fifteen to twenty-one to select pieces from the national collection and curate the exhibition, working through the whole process with our curators, from thinking up a theme to filling out loan requests”, says Ms Braithwaite.

The original conversion of the redundant warehousing was designed by the late architect James Stirling. The redesign will be undertaken by Stirling’s former partner Michael Wilford and his practice. The initial building work will not affect the public, but the gallery will close in April, reopening in stages from August. The redesigned gallery and artistic programme will then be relaunched in May 1998 to coincide with the tenth anniversary of its opening. It will cost £6.9 million of which £3.8 million have been awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and £1.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund through the five Merseyside boroughs. The balance has been raised from the Museum and Galleries Improvement Fund and various charities and donors, with only £122,000 still to be raised.