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Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Newcastle)
Member Name: ks.h
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (Newcastle)
Date: 12/08/03, updated on 12/08/03 (611 review reads)
Advantages: Free, Wonderful building, Great location
Disadvantages: Overpriced merchandise
The Baltic Centre, which is housed in a 1950's grain warehouse (part of the Baltic Flour Mills) opened in July 2002 and it is a major international centre for the production, presentation and experience of contemporary art; it has been described as an 'art factory' rather than an 'art gallery'.
Three thousand square metres of arts space is housed in the original industrial brick building, there are five galleries, artist's studios, cinema and lecture space, media lab as well as a library and archive for the study of contemporary art.
The interior has been designed with sharp clean lines and floor to ceiling windows offering magnificent platforms to view the river and its bridges; the staircases are all constructed from matt finish stainless steel so there is no reflective glare through the huge windows and there are three glass sided lifts offering panoramic views across the surrounding area.
Baltic offers a constantly changing programme of events and exhibitions with no permanent collection; it places great emphasis on commissions, invitations to artists and the work of artists-in-residence.
I visited the Baltic a couple of weeks ago and at the moment there are exhibits from Antony Gormley (who is well known in this area for his Angel of the North) on floors two, three and four, Sirkka-Liisa Knottinen on the ground floor, and in the cinema on the first floor a film was being shown explaining the making of one of the exhibits - the Domain Field by Antony Gormley.
n the Baltic Centre there are three different food and drink outlets including the Rooftop Restaurant with stunning views of Tyneside and a small (rather expensive) shop selling books, art materials and Baltic merchandised goods such as Frisbees, stationery and shopping bags.
The main entrance is on Baltic square where you gain access to the six main floors by the main staircase in the southwest tower of the building or by using the glass lifts that travel continually up and down the west fašade.I'd recommend taking one of the three lifts up to the fifth floor (the sixth floor houses the Rooftop Restaurant), then walking back down the stairs from Gallery to Gallery, leaving your visit to the bookshop until last.
Outside the lift on the fifth floor is a large viewing box, on one side you have panoramic views over the Tyne and you can easily see the bridges, the new curved Sage Music Centre designed by Sir Norman Foster and St. James Park Football Stadium among other landmarks. On the opposite side of the viewing box you find yourself overlooking the art space on the fourth floor, offering a very different perspective on the exhibits below. At the time of my visit I found myself looking down on Antony Gormley's Domain Field; basically two hundred and eighty six local volunteers were covered in plaster to make moulds, metal rods were then inserted into the mould and stuck together to form the shape of the person. Many artists were involved in this work and some used more rods than others creating different looks.
After looking at the Domain Field from the viewing box you can go down to the fourth floor and walk around the gallery, looking at the exhibits you can easily distinguish different postures, some of the models have obviously tried to alter their stance to make themselves stand out by holding an arm in the air or standing slightly bent over for example.
Also on the fourth floor there is another external viewing ter
race offering stunning views over the Tyne. In keeping with the Baltic's ethos of offering a constantly changing programme of events and exhibitions with no permanent collection, the views from this external viewing terrace will also be constantly changing depending on activities on the banks of the Tyne and the river itself, weather conditions, and of course the time of year. It offers some of the best unrestricted views of the area, in my opinion only bettered by the views from the Castle Keep in Newcastle, and it is a photographer's dream.
The third floor offers another extremely large gallery, at the moment housing Allotment by Antony Gormley, three hundred tiny concrete rooms, each one made to fit individually around three hundred volunteers and exhibited in a type of maze that you walk around. I found it very amusing wandering around and listening to visitors comparing the size and shape of each one with themselves and people they knew.
On the second floor the gallery is approximately half the size of those on the upper levels but still fairly large, again this gallery was exhibiting work by Antony Gormley; Body Fruit and Earth are large-scale cast iron sculptures resembling ripe fruit. Inside each sculpture there is an imprint of Antony's own body, he used plaster casts of himself in a crouched position, made a frame from the centre point and then covered the frame with the cast iron skin. The chrysalis like forms emanate a strong sense of gravity and two of the sculptures, Body and Fruit, are suspended from the ceiling in the gallery; the third sculpture, Earth is exhibited outside the Baltic's main door.
The gallery on the ground floor is around the size of that on the second floor; during my visit there was a stunning exhibit of photographs by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen depicting the North East Coal Coast and showing images of the beaches after the closure of the mines. I found these photographs extremely thought pro
voking, they depict the eerie aftermath of the pit closures, with old structures and pitmen's boots littering the blackened sand.
For me Antony Gormley's three exhibits were equally about interacting with your fellow visitors as with art work itself, although they are stationary pieces you are encouraged to walk around them and explore them without actually touching them, this seemed quite impossible for a lot of visitors, who found it very difficult keeping their hands off the Body, Fruit and Earth sculptures in particular.
The Baltic project cost nearly forty-six million pounds, a National Lottery grant of nearly thirty-four million million was awarded to Gateshead Council through the Arts Council of England and contributions from Gateshead Council, English Partnership through One North East, European Regional Development Fund and the Regional Arts Board, Northern Arts made up the remaining twelve and a half million pounds.
It is estimated that the annual running cost should be in the region of three million pounds per year. However, the Baltic is the first lottery funded project to be awarded revenue funding, which amounts to one and a half million pounds per year and is guaranteed for the first five years. Northern Arts and Gateshead Council have also guaranteed contributions for the first five years; it is hoped that the remainder of the annual funding will be raised through corporate sponsorship, support from individuals and charitable organisations who directly contribute to its programme and education work.
A dynamic public community programme works closely with the people living in the North East as well as with national and international audiences. Baltic has just launched an MA in Fine Art and Education, which is being run jointly with Northumbria University, the Master?s course is offered as a flexible part-time programme enabling artist lecturers, comprehensive and primary school teachers, who have their own a
rt practice to do so within a supportive, innovative and balanced environment. Due to the unique collaboration between the Divisions of Fine Art, Pre School and School Learning within Northumbria University and the Baltic extraordinary opportunities are beginning to open up to plan and deliver this distinctive Master of Fine Arts programme.
The Baltic is fully accessible with a range of mobility facilities available on request however it is advisable to contact the Centre in advance of you visit to reserve a wheelchair, tri-wheel walker, motorised scooter or if you require information in large print or Braille. If you require any help during your visit there are members of the crew available on every level that are only too happy to assist in any way.
There are easily accessible toilets on every floor and baby-changing facilities on the ground floor.
The use of photographic equipment and mobile phones is not allowed in the art spaces.
Admission to the Baltic is free, open daily 10.00am to 19.00pm (closes 22.00 Thursday and 17.00 Sunday).
The easiest way to get to the Baltic is from Newcastle Central Station, which is served by national trains and local metro services. It's about a ten minute walk following the signs for the Millennium bridge. For more comprehensive directions take a look at the web site: www.balticmill.com
Baltic The Centre for Contemporary Art, South Shore Road, Gateshead, NE8 3BA
Tel: 0191 478 1810, Fax: 0191 478 1922
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