Modern flavour to this year’s feast of art heading our way

Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait.  Photo Tate, London
Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait. Photo Tate, London
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Andy Warhol, Fiona Rae and Sarah Lucas are among the big names whose work is coming to Yorkshire this summer. Sheena Hastings reports.

LAST year 19 museums and galleries across this region benefited from a marketing initiative called Art in Yorkshire. Sponsored by Tate and funded by the Arts Council to the tune of £140,000, the idea was to bring works by some of the most famous names in the world of art such as David Hockney and Damien Hirst to galleries rural and urban across the county. This trail of wonderful art would be marketed under one umbrella, encouraging visitors to travel beyond their immediate area.

The point was not only to attract bigger audiences to see these works on loan from Tate’s collection, but also to highlight the many strengths of the permanent collections owned by our own rich array of galleries.

The ambitious programme, which ran from February to October, was launched with the arrival of Hockney’s Bigger Trees Near Warter, seen first at York Art Gallery then at the Ferens Gallery in Hull and Cartwright Hall in Bradford.

In York there was a 151 per cent increase in visitor numbers within the first two weeks of the exhibition of Hockney’s piece, and by the end of its stay 143,465 visitors had seen it – an increase in footfall of 123 per cent on the same four-month period the previous year.

The programme saw Atkinson Grimshaw at Harrogate’s Mercer Gallery, Cornelia Parker at York St Mary’s and Damien Hirst’s work on show at Leeds Art Gallery. Visitors flocked, and most of the participant galleries saw a pleasing increase in visitor numbers. Even those venues that did not see an appreciable difference said they felt they’d benefited by their events being marketed by a co-ordinated strategy masterminded by Janet Barnes and her team at York Museums Trust. Promotional tools included a phone app and an Art in Yorkshire website.

The Arts Council agreed to fund the project for four years, and this year’s programme, Art in Yorkshire Goes Modern, launches next Monday with Gordon Baldwin, Objects for a Landscape at York Art Gallery. The “Goes Modern” theme was chosen because of the county’s long artistic tradition and pivotal place in the development of Modernism – in which giants like Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth featured prominently.

Janet Barnes says: “The idea behind this year’s programme remains the same as last year’s – to encourage more people to explore the rich variety of the public art galleries in Yorkshire during 2012. The exhibitions will focus on contemporary and modern art, including some of art’s most iconic names. But we also hope the project will encourage people to discover the treasures in the permanent collections of the galleries involved.”

The Arts Council has funded the promotion of the works in the temporary shows – borrowed from all over the country – with a grant of £100,000 this year.

This year 27 venues across the length and breadth of Yorkshire are involved. Barnes says: “Last year, if we hadn’t been thinking regionally – as opposed to each gallery putting on its own shows and marketing them individually – then we wouldn’t have got the Arts Council funding and Tate wouldn’t have been so interested in loaning the 100 works they sent to Yorkshire for the various exhibitions. People did like it, and many travelled from one show to another across the region. It was a great year to start this project, because there was so much going on with the new Hepworth Gallery. We wanted people from the county and those lured in by Hepworth to see that there are lots of reasons to visit other galleries too.”

This year’s feast will include Fiona Rae at Leeds Art Gallery from tomorrow, Andy Warhol at Ferens Art Gallery in Hull and much more besides.

“This exercise is definitely proving that galleries working together are stronger and that it is good to use the increasing strong brand that Yorkshire has become,” says Barnes.