York Art Gallery: BBC critics deliver their verdicts on the venue – and entrance fee

Tom Sutcliffe, the presenter of BBC Radio 4's Saturday Review. Photograph: BBC / Abigail Zoe Martin
10 Aug 2015 @ 10.00 pm
| News

Many people in York have voiced their opinions about the reopened York Art Gallery – but what do the national art critics think?

One answer came this weekend, when a four-strong team from BBC Radio 4 show Saturday Review gave their opinion on the venue’s £8 million facelift.

Their verdict was mostly very positive, give or take the odd comparison to Ikea and kitchen crockery, and they asked the question – is it worth the controversial £7.50 entrance fee?

The discussion was chaired by presenter Tom Sutcliffe, and these were his panel…

Helen Lewis, deputy editor of political weekly the New Statesmen
Ekow Eshun, writer
Bidisha, broadcaster and journalist

So what did they think? Go here to hear the whole programme, or listen to the York discussion and read the highlights below.

On the building

Looking up from the entrance lobby. Photograph: York Art Gallery
Looking up from the entrance lobby. Photograph: York Art Gallery
I think it works beautifully. You walk in and you immediately feel like you’re in an open space that’s flooded with light and it’s quite church-like in a lot of ways.

The idea is that your attention and interest is drawn upwards, towards the light but also towards that great ceramic collection.

– Bidisha

On the Centre For Ceramic Arts

Some of the pots in the ceramic rainbow wall. Photograph: York Art Gallery
Some of the pots in the ceramic rainbow wall. Photograph: York Art Gallery
I said to my partner on leaving, when I found out we were going to York, “why do I have to go for two hours on the train to look at crockery when I could walk into my kitchen?”

I don’t have the critical vocabulary to appreciate ceramics.

– Helen Lewis

The Centre for Ceramic Arts is fantastic – it’s beautiful…

I was really interested. You think about them as pieces of sculpture.

– Ekow

If you compare it to, for example, the ceramics rooms at the V&A, you see how successful York really is.

The V&A has a problem which is it feels extremely mercantile. You feel like you’re in a shop.

And at York you feel like you’re in a gallery.

– Bidisha

On the room sets

Artefacts displayed in a ‘room’. Photograph: YorkMix
Artefacts displayed in a ‘room’. Photograph: YorkMix
[The room sets] in which the pottery is put out on mantlepieces and so on… I thought that in a way was the least successful because it just looked a bit like Ikea. The stuff is just too modern I think.

– Tom Sutcliffe

On the paintings

Some of the paintings on display. Photograph: York Art Gallery
Some of the paintings on display. Photograph: York Art Gallery
They’ve opened up their collection and they’re showing work that’s not just about regional Yorkshire.

They also seem to have quite a large collection of 17th century paintings, Dutch paintings, early Renaissance paintings. And that breadth of work really speaks very well.

– Ekow

I think that their painting collection is very patchy. You see a Canaletto, you see a Lowry, you see one Hogarth right up on the wall and you have to really struggle to find them, so it’s very variable.

– Bidisha

On the Sarah Lucas

NUD 4 by renowned Brit artist Sarah Lucas (2009). Photograph: York Art Gallery
NUD 4 by renowned Brit artist Sarah Lucas (2009). Photograph: York Art Gallery
There’s a great Sarah Lucas – a sort of knot of tights, and it looks like it’s carved out of beige marble, but it’s not, it sort of looks like guts and it’s sexual.

– Helen

That got a very good reaction as I was going around from a small boy, who I think reacted in a way that Sarah Lucas would have been thrilled by – it was total repulsion.

He virtually flinched away from it.

– Tom Sutcliffe

On the entrance fee

An outside view of the gallery from the gardens. Photograph: York Art Gallery
An outside view of the gallery from the gardens. Photograph: York Art Gallery
There’s been some controversy over the fact that they’re charging admission for adults – £7.50. I think children go in free.

But that’s always a subject that arouses debate.

It makes a really tough question: would you pay £7.50 to go in?

– Tom

I think it’s a shame they have to charge but I think for any city to have a gallery that works really hard to reflect the artistic aspirations of that region – I think it’s an important space.

I think it’s trying to be a centre that matters.

– Ekow