There was unanimous praise for the newly refurbished Hayward Gallery which was unveiled this week to the massed ranks of the art world in all its spruced-up but still uncompromisingly Brutalist glory. The strapline for the South Bank’s funding campaign was "Let the Light in", and it was widely agreed that the new Hayward now does this with a vengeance. Its 66 iconic but formerly blacked-out pyramidal skylights that give the building such a dramatic profile have now been fully renovated and for the first time since the gallery opened 50 years ago are able to do their intended job of flooding the upstairs galleries with (carefully controlled) natural daylight.
After dark this distinctive rooftop cluster of glass pyramids continue to make their presence known and to celebrate their new status by dramatically beaming-out coloured light across the city, courtesy of David Batchelor’s Sixty Minute Spectrum. This special commission converts the skylights into a chromatic clock which starts ends each hour on red, moving through orange, blue, pink, yellow and all the hues in between. At the opening, the Hayward's director Ralph Rugoff declared that he is keen for Batchelor to develop a wristwatch that worked along the same lines, telling the time in colour rather than numbers.
Significantly, Mr R also revealed that he has had a change of heart on another more long-standing light-related matter, namely the reinstatement of Philip Vaughan’s Neon Tower. This much-loved sculpture was commissioned by the Arts Council for the Hayward and resided on the gallery roof between 1972 until 2008, when it was removed for restoration and never returned. Now Rugoff says that he is committed to reinstating the much loved geometric beacon, which changed colour at different speeds according to the velocity of the wind. “It’s clearly a cultural landmark—and I’d love to see it back up there”, he told me. However, he also added that the return of the Tower will be a costly affair, as the condition of the piece means that it needs to be entirely recreated and activated by new technology—even the steel supporting structure needs to be rebuilt. So amidst the wider Hayward celebrations there can be cautious cause for cheer among the Tower’s many admirers, which include artists Antony Gormley, Jeremy Deller, Ron Arad and your own correspondent. Good news that in this element of his magnificent gallery the Hayward Director has now seen the light.