Small UK Museum Wins Arts' Richest Prize
Date: 26 May 2007 | | Views: 3376
Source: The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk), by Maev Kennedy
The biggest prize in the arts, the £100,000 Gulbenkian museum prize, was awarded last night to Pallant House in Chichester, described as "a jewel of a gallery". It was a surprise victory for a comparatively small independent regional gallery, which beat one of the biggest museum projects of recent years, the £27.9m complete restoration and redisplay of the giant Kelvingrove art gallery and museum in Glasgow.
Francine Stock, chair of the judges, said yesterday: "It almost came as a surprise choice to us too, Pallant House didn't start out as the front runner on paper. But we were incredibly impressed by the perfect fit of the building and the collections, including an absolutely world class British art collection which equals anything in the metropolitan museums."
Her fellow judges described the experience of the gallery, with its light filled modern extension joined to an original listed Queen Anne town house, as "spirit-lifting".
Pallant House plans to use the prize money towards scrapping its £6.50 adult admission charge and introducing free admission.
The news came too late for Sir Colin St John Wilson, architect of the British Library, a partner in the design of the much-admired extension to the gallery, which re-opened last year with 90% of its collection on display. He gave it his own lifetime's collection of British art, but died a fortnight ago.
Ms Stock said the judges were equally impressed by the building, the collections and the friendly atmosphere. "Modern British art is not always made the most accessible to people", she noted, but the museum's outreach programme, which ranges from working with asylum seekers in Portsmouth to prisoners in Ford open prison, certainly attempts to overcome these barriers.
The other short-listed projects were the restoration of Kew Palace, the royal residence within Kew Gardens, which became virtually a prison for the ill George III, and the £19m restoration of Weston Park museum in Sheffield.
The prize, which will next year be taken over by the Art Fund charity from the Calouste Gulbenkian, was set up to create a buzz for museums rivalling the glamour of the Turner and Booker prizes in art and literature. Pallant House is already flourishing, but can expect to be besieged by visitors: last year's winner, Brunel's SS Great Britain in Bristol, reported a 30% increase in visitors, and the previous year the Big Pit coal mining museum in south Wales had to put out "house full" signs on many days after its success.