An inside look at new National Gallery

In the first of a series of articles that follow the development of the new National Gallery, we take a look the F.J Harquail Exhibition Hall.

Danny Owens’ winning design for the National Gallery provides a series of flexible spaces to support the wide range of activities undertaken by the organisation.

Initially the two freestanding buildings will house the different exhibition and education areas, linked by a covered walkway, with potential additional phases that will be highly adaptable to the Gallery’s changing requirements over time.

The first of the two buildings that make up the new National Gallery complex is the FJ Harquail Exhibition Hall, named after the late husband of land trustee and donor Mrs Helen Harquail. This building will house the NGCI’s diverse rotating temporary exhibition schedule along with a permanent gallery for the Cayman Island national art collection, the first of its kind.

On the exterior, the galleries are expressed as perfect square, topped with a pyramidal roof that will allow a shaft of natural light to permeate the upper gallery, without damaging the artwork. The interior was conceived as a conventional space – based on a square within a square – in order to maximise flexibility for curators and maintain the high level of environmental control necessary to house travelling exhibitions and the Gallery’s collection.

The deliberate simplicity of the architecture is designed to compliment the artwork on display rather than compete with it. Accordingly, the interior will be minimally decorated with an industrial finish, white walls, pale grey concrete flooring and exposed ceilings. The area will be fully accessible, with several entrances, a wheelchair ramp and an elevator inside connecting the two storeys.

“We are essentially doubling the amount of exhibition space with this new building,” explains NGCI Director Natalie Urquhart. “Our current home at Harbour Place is approximately 2200 sq. ft. which is suitable for our temporary exhibitions but which prevents us from exhibiting the permanent collection. As the other cultural entities such as CNCF and the National Museum are also limited for exhibition space, the majority of the national art collection has remained in storage for years. Finally it will find a permanent home in the upper of our two galleries.”

The permanent collection will include work by many of Cayman’s most renowned artists: Bendel Hydes, Miss Lassie, Al Ebanks, Wray Banker, Randy Chollette, Charles Long, Janet Walker and Joanne Sibley, to name a few. In order to accommodate the breadth and scope of the collection this permanent gallery will rotate on an annual basis while the temporary exhibitions will change on a three-month basis.

Two galleries will also mean double the educational opportunities. “All of our exhibitions are accompanied by a cross curricula learning pack for teachers and students that is designed to use local art to illustrate a variety of lessons from geography and history to maths and social studies,” says Urquhart. “Now, with the permanent collection there will always be examples of our cultural heritage on display whether it be via paintings of catboats, ship building and historical architecture or thatch work and other craft forms. The learning opportunities are endless.”

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