Caroline Stephens visits HAT Projects' Jerwood Gallery on the coast of Hastings, UK
I recently visited HAT Projects’ new Jerwood Gallery as part of The Regency Society’s Seaside Galleries Tour (3 seaside galleries in a one day trip; the Towner at Eastbourne by Rick Mather, the Jerwood at Hastings by HAT Projects and the Turner at Margate by David Chipperfield).
As explained on the Jerwood Gallery website: “The Jerwood Foundation was established in 1977 by its Chairman, Alan Grieve, for John Jerwood, an international businessman and philanthropist. Since John Jerwood’s death in 1991, Alan Grieve has created and shaped the Jerwood vision; building the Jerwood name as a major contributor to the vibrancy and creativity of the arts in the UK.”
The Jerwood is one of a link in the ‘necklace’ of art galleries along the south coast of England (as described above but including the Pallant House at Chichester) and to me it resembled a black pearl due to its black ceramic tile cladding; a fitting metaphor as John Jerwood made his money from jewellery and cultured pearls.
Positioned at the top of the beach that supports Europe’s largest beach-launched fishing fleet, the Gallery (opened March 2012) is part of Hastings Old Town’s £9m redevelopment project. This included new community facilities, public WCs, cafe and public open space plus highways improvements. The Gallery cost £4m and was privately funded by the Jerwood Foundation.
We were dropped off by coach five minutes walk east of the Gallery and made our way along the promenade past the arcades, amusements and the swan boating lake. The flow of people takes you into the new public square, the former coach park, which has been flanked on three sides by new low-level public buildings. At the far end, past the café on the northern side and the high backed benches to protect spectators from the southerly wind, is the Jerwood Gallery. Behind the Gallery you catch a glimpse of the Victorian funicular railway that takes you to the top of the cliff.
The Gallery sits over two levels; the ground floor space intended for temporary exhibitions and workshop areas, and the first for permanent exhibitions and a café. Northern light is captured by triangular rooflights (geometrically akin to the gables of the smoking huts) and floor-to-ceiling picture windows (with no external reveals!) offer views over the beach and up to the cliff top.
The first floor was quite a small gallery space but this made it feel more relaxed and easy to navigate around the Gallery.
The Gallery proposals were controversial and opponents’ messages are still visible today, but it seems to have been successful in bringing people to the area (us included) and to offer the local community reduced rate entry to what is a very comprehensive collection of art. Built on the former coach and lorry park called the Stade, some locals thought it would create both a built and a cultural divide in the area.
Hana Loftus, Project Architect at HAT Projects Ltd, details: “The Stade site offered a wonderful opportunity for the Jerwood proposal to be the catalyst for the regeneration of a site that had been identified as a key opportunity for over ten years by Hastings Borough Council.
“We're really excited and delighted by the response since the building has opened and the huge local enthusiasm for what it has brought to the community as well as the new visitors who are discovering Hastings and spending money in the area.”
The contrast of working beach, seaside entertainments and a spectacular art collection works really well and the Jerwood does not look out of place within this context of smoking huts, mini railway and trawlers. Adjacent the gallery the beach continues working with freshly caught fish cooked on an open grill for hungry tourists and locals alike.
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