Newest Review: ... with yellow brick features on its corners and along the top. On the Tyne facing side the words 'Baltic Flour Mill' are picked out in bla... more
Nice face shame about the rear.
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Newcastle)
Member Name: scallmorpheedy
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Newcastle)
Advantages: free, varied, iconic,
Disadvantages: hitty missy,
An iconic and beautiful monolith, then. All the more reason for tears at the grotesque parliament of high-rise executive blocks that now crowd behind it. Gone the sky backdrop that made its great bulk so impressive. Now in its place, a rear guard of architectural mediocrity that threatens to drag the entire quayscape down to the level of a university campus. Feeding on the Baltic’s beauty, their parasitic presence drains an essential essence of the Baltic’s charm. Aware of their own shortcomings and with ceiling to floor glass facades on their top-level duplex apartments, they stare owl-like contemplating the gulf in intent and execution in the architects attempt to match them to it. (To who? They say.)
This then is the all-new Gateshead, a chitter-chattering crowd of gawpers.
It’s difficult now to see the Baltic as anything other than a confused old dear. Abandoned and derelict, its interior had become little more than an oversized kittiwake coop. Ageing shambolically it had settled into its fate. Watching, through a fogging monocle, the sinister development of the millennium bridge’s hump-back form, “What’s this?” it thought, “Neanderthals from the north!?” And then they came shooing out the residents and tonguing licks of paint hither and thither creating an art factory. Gone the days of productivity, sweat and bird shite. Now troops of gawpers staring at ludicrous abstractions before gorging themselves in either of the two ubiquitous modern British restaurants -one of which is tolerable the other of which is a carbuncle of corporate entertainment.
For a building of such dignity it is all a bit of a shock.
Inside, the Baltic consists essentially of several floors, each, with the exception of the top floor eatery, vast un-segmented spaces in which to house displays. And indeed they are huge spaces -on first viewing they were so individually vast they seemed to have sets of individually applicable theorems relative. The envy of many a public space they cry out for action, something, anything to fill their void. Great you might think, the bigger the better. Yet in this size there is a problem.
It is clear that the art, which the factory produces, is lead excessively by the space. With the area available it is almost inherently human that you either wish to fill it with the gargantuan or tend towards minutiae to emphasise the space. No better example of this than Lionel Opie’s opening day display. Consisting of huge stick men and women painted onto the walls of the building, bold in intention but witty in their simplicity, they combined minimalism and maximalism. The intention I suppose was to define the space as both open yet constrained, to make the viewers the viewed, to turn the experience of a gallery on its head. Fine intentions indeed but little more than a two second pun. More cynically they had the feel of a logo; mass-produced on diary covers they form an ideal mid-price gift for your art friendly pals.
Plasterboard divides can of course resolve this issue of too much space. Yet in this there is still a problem. Firstly there is still a sense of too much, secondly and in tandem the orientation of the building’s thoroughfares –positioned at one end of the building only- has a sense of the Ikea about it. If you can’t find the short cuts you must see everything. This depersonalises the space, preventing free movement and giving the impression of being spoon-fed. Of course I’m just being parky.
In truth the less monumental displays are more enduringly engaging – providing the balance is right. When overbalanced there is a tendency to overkill. Hannah Hoch’s montages a fine example of this. Individually absorbing, the sheer number on display diminished the relative potency of each. It put me in mind of the Guernica room at Madrid’s Reina-Sofia, in which the preamble of preliminary sketches leaves you “Yeah, yeah, yeah” ing at the end result. Had the same display been honed and set alongside other dada artists or works by earlier or later female artists it would have been far more effective. In contrast the wealth of available wall space was ideal to demonstrate the variation of styles used during the career of Carol Rama. No other gallery in Newcastle could have housed this and still only used one floor.
Similarly no other space could house at any one time the range of mediums employed at Baltic. At any one visit you are likely to see vast film installations, an abstract gargantuan mish-mash, encased volumes of art books and hordes of visitors adding generically vapid declarations against Messrs Bush and McDonald to a socio-political experiment.
Perhaps this is the key to the Baltic’s success; the variety the space allows and the public enthusiasm it generates. Misplaced occasionally –a recent mass nudist photo shoot an example- but well meaning, it works for and deserves its success.
On balance where I feel the Baltic is most successful is in the background to the displays. In many cases the background processes -often filmed and shown alongside the works- are more intriguing than the end product. As an example, the process of producing Anthony Gormley’s domain fields was far more interesting than the piece itself. Similarly a recent Phyllida Barlow piece “Peninsula,” in which the film of the construction process stimulated much more than the pile of wood and gaffer tape that comprised her installations end result.
Aware of, and playing on this Baltic has the feel of a family concern. The whole family is welcome and the whole family can be involved. Be it a trip just for the enviable views or a chance to lecture the kids on the principles of abstract assemblage. The Baltic is the place. And what’s more, Gateshead poll tax aside, it’s free with a capital £.
Summary: Iconic location, plus points can hinder but plus points shine through
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