The UK Government Art Collection, which collects and promotes British art, is now opening its doors for lunch time tours – so sign up now!
The building off Tottenham Court Road is home to the part of the UK Government’s collection that is not adorning the walls of numerous government buildings, embassies, and official residencies throughout the world. It also houses a workshop for conservation work and a small exhibition area displaying a selection of works.
The most fascinating thing about the tour is the number of unique stories about the art you see – for instance, Bridget Riley’s painting Reflection (above, on the left hand wall) shouldn’t by rights be in the store right now, it should be in Cairo, but as it was being conserved when the Egyptian uprising began it has never gone back.
The tour moves on to the workshop where works of art that are currently undergoing conservation are being worked on and so will be different with each tour. On my visit this included paintings that were being treated after a flood in one of the rooms at No.10 Downing Street and were being sent back there the following day.
The store itself shows the wide range of artwork in the collection with a mix of traditional and modern – portraiture, landscape, abstract and anything in between, and the curator who gave the tour had an impressive amount of knowledge about such a wide ranging collection and also gave some interesting insights into their uses – apparently a painting depicting a rather 70s looking Thermos flask is a favourite of Nick Clegg’s and a series of paintings were just returning from the Cabinet Office after originally being chosen by Peter Mandelson.
Other images that caught my eye were a Nevinson, a Bob and Roberta Smith and a crate marked up with ‘Barbara Hepworth, Cone, Sphere and Hollow’ that looked like it was on its way to France.
You definitely get a sense that this art collection is extremely well used, with paintings coming and going around the world, being brought back for conservation, sent out to furnish new buildings or returning as old ones close. So much so that in six months a visit would probably be very different with a completely new set of paintings held in store.
Lunchtime tours take place each month and are free, but you will need to book in advance. These tours last an hour and there is plenty of time to answer questions such as who chooses what art goes into the collection? How did the collection begin? Do all government officials get to choose their own art work for their walls? Do they ever commission new pieces? How do they conserve paintings for such different climates?
For more information and to book your visit – http://www.gac.culture.gov.uk/visit.html
Government Art Collection, Queens Yard, 179a Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 7PA
FREE (book in advance)