Touring the grand - and the contemporary

The Grand Tour exhibition partnership of Midlands museums and stately homes began as an invocation of wealthy 18th century European cultural tourists. Now it’s closer to home, and closer to now, reports Simon Tait

This is the third Grand Tour series of exhibitions and now, says Sam Thorne, director of Nottingham Contemporary, it’s become a celebration of contemporary work that has in some way been inspired by the art and design of the 18th century.

Main image shows Linder's Her Grace Land at Chatsworth, courtesy Chatsworth House Trust

“It’s a way of fostering more collaboration between different venues” Thorne says. “It’s a dialogue, and this time we’ve moved the dialogue on.”

Nottingham Contemporary is one of four places in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, along with Chatsworth House, the Harley Gallery at Worksop which houses the Portland Collection which includes work by Rembrandt and Van Dyck and exhibits the work of contemporary artists and craftspeople, and Derby Museums.


The House of Fame convened by Linder, Nottingham Contemporary, photography by Sam Kirby 

The four were brought together by Thorne’s predecessor and founder of Nottingham Contemporary Alex Farquharson, now director of Tate Britain. Each has a different slant on art and a different audience, and the founding principle was that the scheme should allow them to foster cross-inspiration for artists, but also to exchange visitors. The Grand Tour series opened last week and runs until June 17.

While the four remain the staples, there are also eight fringe venues in the region co-ordinating with the theme, this time chosen from 20 applications and they include the Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, the Syson Gallery, the Backlit and Derby Cathedral.

The lead comes from Nottingham Gallery with the one time “punk artist” Linder Sterling, now internationally shown, who spent six months “embedded” at Chatsworth House. In House of Fame a retrospective of her work is central to the Nottingham exhibition, but she has selected the work of 40 artists who have influenced her, more than 150 drawings, sculptures, furniture, jewellery, photographs and banners. 

At Chatsworth Housel meanwhile, Her Grace Lands the work is Linder’s work drawn from the house itself, where she immersed herself in its history with interventions, including a sound sculpture made with her son, the musician Maxwell Sterling.

Clare Twomey's Half in Shadow: Half in Light at the Harley Gallery, photo by Sam Kirby

The craft potters celebrated at the Harley Gallery inform Half in Shadow: Half in Light by Clare Twomey who has reinvented a traditional technique of lithophanes, popular in the 28th century, which are wafer thin porcelain plaques on which she has drawn ten portraits of people living on the nearby Welbeck Estate.

Derby Museum and Gallery The Art of Industry: From Joseph Wright to the 21st Century which centres on the relationship artists have had, and continue to have, with the Derbyshire’s industry.


The Interior of Bennett and Sayers Foundry (detail), Arthur Dilkes, c.1965, photo Sam Kirby

“We took he decision to move away from the historical  grand tour to think,  in looser terms, about more celebrating and exploring the different heritages of region, from crafts to industry and beyond” Thorne says. “It’s more about in what different ways we might be able to collaborate.”

 For collaborating has been the praxis for Nottingham Contemporary since it opened nine years ago, and is one of the reasons why The Grand Tour is so enthusiastically supported by the Arts Council. The gallery gets up to 200,000 visitors a year, a third of whom are under 35, while Chatsworth has over 600,000 largely of the next generation. “What we’re hoping is that we’ll cross-pollinate between the venues, those not used to our work will be sent here and our people will go to Derby, Chatsworth and the Harley – at the last Grand Tour in 2016 Thorne’s gallery saw a 45,000 swelling in numbers.

The fsame our centres have been chosen for each of the three series, and will probably remain the same, because they could all be visited over a weekend without difficulty. But the true overall theme is the artists and their relationship to the history, people and places of the East Midlands. “In different ways” Thorne says “it's about each of the artists’ view of a region”.




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