National Gallery’s £30m birthday facelift

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The National Gallery is to mark its bicentenary in 2024 with an upgrade of the visitor areas and a new research centre, director Gabriele Finaldi announced today.

NG200 will see a reconfigured ground floor entrance to its Sainsbury Wing, now the main entrance, an upgrade to visitor amenities including new spaces, and a research centre next door in the 19th century Wilkins building that “will support the gallery’s vision of becoming a world leader in research into historic painting”.

“We recognise, of course, that we are all currently experiencing an unprecedented time of crisis which impacts every sector in every part of our country and across the globe” Finaldi said. “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a catastrophic effect on visitor numbers to all cultural and arts institutions, the National Gallery included, and it will take time for these to return to 2019 levels. 

“But there is hope on the horizon and art and culture have a vital role to play in the healing of our country. The National Gallery was the first major museum to open after lockdown restrictions were lifted in July 2020, demonstrating its commitment to be part of the nation’s recovery story. As the nation’s gallery we want to play a full part in this in the future, and to do so, we need to start planning now.”

The gallery is calling for tenders from design teams to work on the. Programme, the first phase of which will open in 2024, and the brief will include re-imagining the public spaces on front of the building. Underpinning the brief, Finaldi said, is the desire to create healthy, sustainable, and accessible spaces and an environment that is open and inclusive where visitors can relax as they plan their visit.

Costing an expected total of £25m-£30m the project is expected to take five years to complete. Surprisingly, there is no provision for a rethought temporary exhibition space, the current basement gallery in the 1991 Sainsbury Wing widely criticised as being too small, cramped and deprived of natural light.

After an international trawl the winning design team is expected to be announced in July.

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