Smaller museums and galleries often get overlooked in the national and international press. In a new series, Apollo asks museum directors and curators what makes their small wonders so unique. Richard Parry is the curator of the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool
Tell us a bit about the history of the gallery…
The building is a handsome Edwardian purpose-built picture gallery paid for in part by Carnegie, together with the adjoining Central Library. It was commissioned in 1908 following a bequest of 33 artworks and a financial gift from brothers John and Cuthbert Grundy, both of whom were artists. Cuthbert was described at the time as ‘A leader of the artistic, literary and scientific life of the town’. The gallery first opened to the public in 1911.
What makes this collection unique?
Grundy’s collection, which is displayed as part of the temporary exhibitions programme and is not on permanent display, includes Victorian oils and watercolours, modern British paintings, contemporary jewellery and video, oriental ivories, ceramics, and photographs and souvenirs of Blackpool. As the gallery has shifted towards contemporary art we have also added works by Craigie Aitchison, Martin Creed, Laura Ford, Gilbert & George and Peter Liversidge.
How does it relate to the local area?
The gallery holds a key place in the heart of the town and is viewed with affection by residents and regular visitors. Our programming seeks to engage in an interesting and imaginative way with the distinct visual, social and cultural heritage of the town.
How did you come to work here?
I was appointed from the Hayward Gallery this April.
What are the greatest challenges of running a regional gallery?
As it is early days in my tenure, I am still getting to grips with these, but I would say that like most places securing ongoing funding is a key concern. There are advantages and disadvantages to being a long way from London, in that I believe it is possible to take more artistic risks. We have also found that, being some way away from other cities, it requires greater effort to entice people to make the journey – but we hope we are doing this!
What is your personal highlight from the collection?
I love seeing the Martin Creed work going on and off above the door every day, and we also have a fantastic new piece by Ruth Claxton in our stairwell.
How well you do you feel you know the collection? Does it continue to surprise you?
I am new to the job and if I’m honest I feel I have a lot still to learn about the collection.
How has the gallery developed during your tenure?
The exhibitions we’ve undertaken to date have all been programmed before my time but I hope that I’ve brought a new energy to proceedings. For instance, we are organising a symposium for 2 November, on the subject of ‘Freud in Blackpool’, which will be the first time the gallery has hosted something like that.
And what does the future hold for the Grundy Art Gallery?
Watch this space as the new programme takes shape!
Richard Parry is the curator of the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool.
‘She changed how we encounter sculpture’ – remembering Phyllida Barlow (1944–2023)