Part of a Victorian swimming baths and the iron tanks that supplied the water are to open as one of the UK’s most eagerly anticipated new contemporary art spaces, at the birthplace of the Young British Artists.
Goldsmiths, the south London art college whose students have included Bridget Riley, Antony Gormley and YBAs such as Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Gillian Wearing and Gary Hume, is to open a 1,000 sq metre gallery designed by the Turner prize-winning collective Assemble.
It will have an affinity with overseas university galleries such as the Wattis Institute in San Francisco and Portikus in Frankfurt, and a feel of places such as the ICA and South London Gallery in London, but it will not be exactly like them, its director, Sarah McCrory, hopes. “The whole point is not to be like anywhere else,” she said.
The £4m gallery, which will open in September, has been funded in part by an auction of work donated by alumni, which raised £1.7m.
It is one of the most exciting gallery openings of the year for several reasons. For one, it bucks a trend. “In a troubling time for cultural institutions, it is really nice to be part of something that is opening rather than a story that is about closure or cuts,” said McCrory.
“I also really hope that the impact of spaces like this can be seen by those that fund them because I think it is a tragedy that so many are disappearing, often secretly and quietly … they just suddenly disappear.”
The gallery is also the first building from Assemble, an architectural collective of young and radical designers, artists and architects who won the Turner prize in 2015 for their project helping residents in Toxteth to renovate their homes and gardens.
Assemble won the commission in a competition, selected by a panel that included Gormley and the architect David Chipperfield. They promise to expose the hidden character of what was the plant works and water tanks for the Victorian Laurie Grove baths. The main baths building will continue to be used as studios for students.
Assemble were recruited before McCrory was appointed but she could not be more excited. “I love working with them, it is like working with artists,” she said.
Many original features will be kept, including the iron tank walls, which will enclose two of the upstairs galleries, in deliberately stark contrast to the white cube spaces below.
McCrory, formerly a Frieze Projects curator and director of the contemporary art festival Glasgow International, said the new Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art offered a huge number of curating possibilities with a variety of spaces, some of them challenging.
“Probably one of the reasons why I ended up getting the job is that a lot of my previous jobs have been curating in odd spaces,” she said. “In Glasgow it would be fire stations and swimming pools and dungeons.
“Of course this is a building with a roof and walls and lighting, something I’ve wanted to do for a while; at the same time there is still an element of working with artists to make the building make sense, to use the idiosyncrasies of the building.”
Goldsmiths CCA will open to the public on 8 September with a show across the whole building devoted to the New York-based artist Mika Rottenberg, who is known for her often absurd and surreal videos and sculptures addressing themes of labour and feminism.
It will be her first solo exhibition in London and Rottenberg is creating two new works examining the human body’s physical and psychological potential and limitations.
McCrory hopes the gallery will be a great resource and inspiration for Goldsmiths students and staff, but it will be very much a public gallery, for everyone.
Further down the line, McCrory is planning displays of new work by the Estonian artist Kris Lemsalu and a posthumous exhibition of work by Alexis Hunter, an influential figure from the feminist art movement in Britain in the 1970s who was known for her staged photographic works.
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