Magazine article The Spectator

On the Move

Magazine article The Spectator

On the Move

Article excerpt

Last weekend, as part of Open House London, the Government Art Collection flung open its doors to allcomers, probably some Spectator readers among them. Its energetic acquisitions and commissioning policy over past decades has made it one of our country's most valuable cultural resources - yet those of us who don't stalk the corridors of power may still be only vaguely aware of its existence, let alone the astonishing breadth of its collections.

These span four centuries and now contain around 13,500 works of art in almost every medium you can think of.

The sceptic might suppose that a collection of this size might on occasion have sacrificed quality for quantity, but it has been built up skilfully under the watchful eye of a stellar board of advisers, the directors of the National and National Portrait Galleries and the Tate among them, and the results are, unsurprisingly, impressive. Three quarters of the GAC's works are out on loan around the world at any one time, but a sample is on display in the viewing area of its offices in a cul-de-sac off the Tottenham Court Road - an unlikely and unadvertised location. When I visited, the recently acquired 'High Street' series of prints by Eric Ravilious hung near a powerful Keith qVaughan and Jeremy Deller's screenprint 'History of the World'. Ahead was a vitrine of glass objets by Matthew Darbyshire that positively sizzles with light and colour, and was in the running for the residence of the British Embassy in Paris, which has offered a prime showcase for the best of contemporary British art since Michael Jay was ambassador in the Nineties. On other walls were landscapes and townscapes by William Marlow and Robert Smirke from the historical side of the collection.

Almost half of its £551,000 annual grant from the DCMS is allocated for purchasing new work (the remainder goes on conservation, transport and admin), and a large part of that goes towards commissioning pieces for particular sites. The British Embassy in Madrid has just moved into I.M. Pei's glittering new Torre Espacio, and opened a fortnight ago with Marta Marce's stylish glass installation, which links all four floors with a glowing column of backlit and brightly spotted glass. This, coupled with Liliane Lijn's slowly revolving kinetic cone, reflects the embassy's move to one of Spain's most talked-about new buildings, and sets a bracingly contemporary agenda for its new quarters. …

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