It was a grand re-opening marred by the presence of protesters, furious at the decision to charge for admission for the first time in years.
But bosses at York Art Gallery say its re-launch this summer, after £8 million in improvements were carried out, has been a triumph, and they have praise from a host of domestic and foreign reviewers to back up their claims.
The project has involved the creation of a mezzanine gallery under the original Victorian roof void, which was previously hidden behind a suspended ceiling.
A new Centre of Ceramic Art is dedicated to the largest collection of British studio ceramics in the world and includes work by Grayson Perry.
The gallery now has three exhibition spaces on the ground floor, capable of hosting major national and international exhibitions, and 60 per cent more display space than before.
Gallery exhibits include works by Italian Old Masters, modern works by artists such as David Hockney, Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer, installations by contemporary artists and more than 2,000 ceramic works.
It also includes three rarely seen LS Lowry paintings of York and a new commission by Susie MacMurray
And now it appears the re-developed building has proved a hit with critics, with the New York Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Mirror and BBC Radio Four’s Saturday Review among the media outlets who have commented positively.
The Museums Journal review claimed it was “probably one of the best museums I’ve been to” while The Times said: “You’d be daft as a brush not to visit this Yorkshire Gallery.” According to Culture 24: “You need only visit the newly renovated York Art Gallery to realise the level of quality of the collections would not be out of place in London.”
A reviewer from Country Life said in a piece this year: “It’s a heart-warming achievement…The whole place is suffused with gently creative energy, old art stimulating new art… The example of York shows how much art museums have to offer.”
A recent report from the Visit England Visitor Attraction Quality Scheme said the gallery was “exceptional” and in customer research 99 per cent of visitors said they were ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied with their visit.
Lorna Sergeant, manager of York Art Gallery, said: “Since we reopened we have been delighted by the vast majority of the feedback by those visiting the gallery – be it journalists, formal evaluations or the general public.
“It is fantastic to have the backing of publications such as the New York Times and Art Newspaper, but it is just as important to see that we are meeting the expectations of our visitors too.”
The re-opening has not been without controversy, and in the light of budget cuts and funding pressures, in common with many other arts venues nationwide, it was announced earlier this year that the art gallery would charge adults an admission fee when it re-opened.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the gallery on the day it re-opened, angry at the decision to charge £7.50 for admission, though they were taken by surprise when they were handed free tickets.
They distributed leaflets claiming: “Tomorrow’s artists need access to inspiring art today. By charging for gallery entry, are we hindering those with poorer backgrounds from becoming tomorrow’s artists?”
The artists, backed by York People’s Assembly, said the charging decision had been linked to a 60 per cent cut in council funding, which they said was part of a wider trend towards privatising, commercialising and defunding, which meant only the well-off could now afford access to the arts.
Separately, Leeds Art Gallery will close its doors for a year from January 10 for essential repairs to be carried out to its roof.
It means this Christmas and New Year will be the last chance to see the touring exhibition, British Art Show 8.
Gallery officials say it will “maintain an active profile through extensive loans from its art collections and seek to engage audiences through external programmes”.
More than 150 paintings and sculptures from the gallery’s nationally designated art collections will go on loan to over 70 international, national and regional venues.