Collecting in the Midlands: the New Art Gallery Walsall

Chris Ofili, For the Unknown Runner (2011), lithograph, 76 x 60 cm. From the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic portfolio. Image courtesy of Counter Editions, London.

Stephen Snoddy is director of the New Art Gallery Walsall in the English West Midlands near Birmingham. He previously held directorial posts at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, Milton Keyes Gallery and Southampton City Art Gallery. He has consistently led regional art galleries in the acquisition of contemporary art. Harry Laughland spoke with him in February 2017.

Harry Laughland Could you tell us about the collection in general at Walsall and then about the print collection in particular?

Stephen Snoddy The gallery’s collection is divided up into a number of different groups. First there is the Garman Ryan collection, which is made up of 365 works and is a closed collection. It is kept together because it was originally displayed in this way in the home of Kathleen Garman, the second wife of Jacob Epstein. The works are all domestic scale, and are displayed in a series of small rooms to echo its original setting. Second, we have collecting policies which are guided by the various streams of funding that the gallery can tap into. So to give you two examples: there is the Contemporary Art Society Special Collection Scheme, which is more about architecture and sculptural works, and there is the Art Fund International, which is shared with Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. With regards to prints, there is the Contemporary Art Society Special Collections Scheme. This was a five-year program whereby 15 galleries around the UK were each given £22,500 from the Contemporary Art Society, which was then made up into £30,000 from within the institutions themselves.

HL Was that annually?

SS Yes, annually. When I arrived at Walsall in 2005, the five years was coming to an end, but it was always assumed that the institutions themselves would continue the idea by finding £30,000 themselves as a way to grow their collections. So one of the first things I did when I came was to make some operational cuts in order to continue the work that had been done prior to my arrival. The staff who were already at the gallery told me that there had been a history of buying prints over the years, and the reason was very simple: they were much cheaper. You were able to buy works by well-known artists at a much lower price point.

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