Major alterations have been carried-out inside Penarth’s historic Turner House Gallery – a Grade II-listed building for which planning permission is normally required before any internal features are changed.
The current occupier – the publicly-funded charity Ffotogallery – has removed the large light-well in floor of the upstairs gallery and taken away the bannister, and the wooden handrail which surrounded it, so that it can stage an exhibition as part of the biennial “Artes Mundi” art competition (top prize £40,000) which is to run at Turner House until February.
Ffotogallery has now filled-in the light-well with floor-planking (supported by newly-installed floor joists beneath) and has turned the upstairs gallery into a totally blacked-out 9-screen “cinema” with nine projectors continually showing nine different videos of individual performers performing simultaneously on the nine different screens.
The exhibit has been created by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. The artists in all nine videos (one of whom is sitting in a full bath playing a guitar) are all performing the same musical piece which is repeated on an endless loop lasting an hour. It’s not a cinema though – there’s nowhere to sit.
Some local PDN readers are demanding that Ffotogallery should restore Turner House to it’s original condition before vacating the building.
On the ground floor there is an exhibition by Sanja Iveković of what look at first glance like fashion-magazine adverts featuring supermodels, but in which the names of “Socialist heroines” have supplanted the original brand-names .
In the adjoining gallery there is a separate exhibition by Iveković featuring a glass-case full of toy donkeys linked in a less-than-obvious way to a WW2 Nazi propaganda-photo featuring a donkey surrounded by barbed wire (a metaphor for what would happen to stubborn citizens) and a series of brief biographies, pasted on the opposite wall, of “historical figures who resisted injustices”– including Che Guevara. Like all the others Che has been allocated his very own toy-donkey.
The Artes Mundi exhibition at Turner House continues until 21 February 2015.
Ffotogallery is a publicly-subsidised charity specialising in photographic images. It has already indicated it plans to quit Turner House within two years.
Turner House and its contents (including a collection of original Turner paintings now worth many millions) was donated to the people of Penarth in 1897 by its founder and creator James Pyke-Thompson – a flour magnate who lived in Penarth .
A board of trustees was set up to manage the Gallery on which Penarth Urban District Council was represented. However in 1921 the Trustees – without any public consultation – transferred Turner House and its contents to the National Museum of Wales. The National Museum stripped out all the valuable Turner paintings and placed them in storage. It later leased Turner House to Ffotogallery.
James Pyke-Thomson’s original bequest of Turner House, and of its priceless Turner paintings, to the people of Penarth remains unfulfilled.