Richard Glynn Vivian (1835-1910) was born in Swansea and travelled the world, collecting art from every country he visited. He left his entire collection for the enjoyment of the people of Swansea, and after he died, The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery was built to house his collection.
The Gallery has recently reopened following a multi-million pound redevelopment and restoration project. The project has been funded by the Arts Council of Wales, Swansea Council, the Welsh Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund, with the aim to bring the gallery into the 21st century, whilst conserving the original character of the 1911 building.
In preparation for the special opening event, the gallery commissioned seven artists to work with local communities to prepare for an opening parade. Free creative workshops took place throughout the summer where there was an opportunity to help the artists make costumes, banners, puppets and musical instruments, and on the opening day the parade and walking procession would move through the city and on to the Gallery, where it would be officially opened by the Lord Mayor.
Artists who took part in the opening parade included Zanne Andrea and Jean Jones. Zanne Andrea created puppet heads of historical heroes and villains of Swansea with the dog Swansea Jack being the hero, and seagulls being the villains, whilst Joan Jones asked us to celebrate the end of gender – ‘Your gender is yours. It’s for you to decide and to celebrate.’
Megan Broadmeadow celebrated the opening with an alien disco. On hearing that the Oceana nightclub was about to be demolished, aliens descended from outer space to perform one last dance in the city, and Rabab Ghazoul tells us that in times of so called ‘austerity’, the very institutions which collect, archive and preserve cultural heritage are under threat. The texts and slogans prepared for the parade included ‘Waiting For Something to Happen, Hope and Glory’ and ‘Me Help The Road is Long.’
The Gallery is stunning both inside and out, with the impressive atrium being home to Lindsey Seers’ Nowhere Less Now. The exhibit is set in a ship that moves through past, present and future time and traces the journey of a relative who sailed the seas in the Royal Navy over a hundred years ago. Of the 10 viewing rooms three are devoted to Glynn Vivian’s expansive and eclectic collection. Entitled Journeys Between Art and Life (1835-1910) the collection includes JMW Turner’s Snow Storm- Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, from 1842, which is on loan from Tate, and a huge collection of ceramics and porcelain. The ceramics include some very rare items from across the world, and the collection raises the question of ‘value’, the difference between ‘object value’ and ‘use value’ and what this might mean for our culture today.
The greatly anticipated Leonardo da Vinci exhibition includes ten drawings from the Royal Collection and is on loan from Tate until 8th January 2017, and housed in Room 3 is Oscar Munoz El Coleccionista video installation, a 4HD synchronised video projection. This gives a Tate Modern feel to the gallery and forms part of the Out of Darkness’ exhibit, which brings together artists whose works explore themes of journeys.
We are told that Richard Glynn Vivian cared for people and other cultures, and he believed that art has a social and spiritual value – that art can change lives. It is no surprise to learn then that the Gallery’s vision is to contribute to the social well-being of Swansea, and to support the future regeneration of the city. The aim is to combat poverty, unemployment and social exclusion faced by people, especially young people living in Swansea, and this will be achieved through the Gallery’s learning and engagement programme. It is hoped that the widest audiences possible will engage with the gallery, and there will be sharp focus on anti-poverty initiatives in the inner city areas. Already, there are many free events listed for October and November for families, adults and young people alike. The gallery is hoping to attract 90,000 visitors a year, why not be one of them.