With galleries and museums reopening to the public across the UK, many of us are excited to hear about the new exhibitions and works we will soon be able to visit in person. Beginning as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic to support both artists and museums, the CAS Rapid Response Fund allows members of the Contemporary Art Society to apply for funding that will allow them to buy new art to display upon their reopening.

The CAS Rapid Response Fund is a collaboration between the Contemporary Art Society and Frieze London. Money for the fund has been raised through a crowdfunding campaign, in which donors of £35 or over receive a limited-edition facemask designed by leading artists Eddie Peake, Linder, David Shrigley and Yinka Shonibare.

It is estimated that this fund will support over 20 acquisitions – nine of which have already been announced. At the beginning of June, it was announced that Reading Museum would acquire a commission from Eleanor Lakelin, Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery & Museum would receive a room-sized body of work by Granby Workshop, and GoMA in Glasgow would receive three works by Glasgow-bown artist Rabiya Choudhry. A second round of acquisitions has now been announced, with a further six museums being connected with work from six more UK artists.

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Rosanne Robertson casting the spaces between rocks in St Ives. Image courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield.

One recipient, The Hepworth Wakefield in West Yorkshire, was awarded a grant to acquire a new body of work by Rosanne Robertson (b. Sunderland, 1984). In a statement on the acquisition, Robertson stated that “The Hepworth has played a vital role in the journey of my practice which has taken me from West Yorkshire to West Cornwall, working site-specifically in both while expanding ideas around gender fluidity and the Queer body in the land/seascape.

“I can’t think of a better journey for the work to find a home in Wakefield, continuing a connection forged by Barbara Hepworth between the landscapes of her hometown of Wakefield and her chosen home of St Ives. I would like to thank The Contemporary Art Society for making this opportunity possible and for supporting artists during difficult times and The Hepworth Wakefield for their continued support.”

Packing, Robertson’s new work for the Hepworth Wakefield, is an examination of the Queer body as it exists in the seascape and landscape. In a bid to transcend “a marginalised Queer history based on colonial and western homophobic and transphobic ideas of being deemed ‘against nature’”, Robertson explores the connections between their own body and the natural landscape’s forms and rhythms.

Chief Curator at The Hepworth Wakefield, Andrew Bonancina is delighted to accept this “generous gift” from the Contemporary Art Society and those who contributed to the crowdfunding campaign:

“Wakefield’s art collection has always striven to support artists early in their careers and to collect contemporary art that reflects modern life. We are delighted to have been able to acquire this work by Robertson, who has had an ongoing relationship with The Hepworth Wakefield and has played an important role in our continued research into Barbara Hepworth’s legacy.”

The new work will go on display at The Hepworth Wakefield in November 2020.

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Rosanne Robertson, ‘The Island’ (2020), charcoal, gouache and graphite drawing. Image courtesy of the artist.

A second Rapid Response Fund recipient is the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA), who will soon be giving a home to Devotional Wallpaper and Placards, 2008-2020. This is a room-scale installation by artist Sonia Boyce, which has been shown widely in different forms and with much acclaim. Devotional Wallpaper and Placards originally emerged from a collaboration between Boyce and Liverpool Black Sisters, and will form the centrepiece of an exhibition of the artist’s work upon MIMA’s reopening.

Regarding the museum’s newest acquisition, Head of Programme at MIMA, Elinor Morgan, has said that “Sonia Boyce’s Devotional Wallpaper and Placards is a key work by one of Britain’s most important contemporary artists… The installation offers rich stimulus for discussing relationships, visibility, memories and creativity. It proposes a space of recognition and a site for sharing memories and overlooked narratives.”

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Sonia Boyce, ‘Devotional Wallpaper and Placards’ (2008-2020). Image courtesy of MIMA.

Director of MIMA and Dean of MIMA School of Art and Design, Laura Sillars added that:

“It is so important that significant artworks are held across our country and this work joins our Middlesbrough Collection, alongside Boyce’s work She Ain’t Holding Them Up, She’s Holding On (Some English Rose), 1986, which was acquired in 1987. As an innovative collecting institution, we are grateful to the Contemporary Art Society for supporting this acquisition.”

The Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle is another recipient of the fund, which has allowed the gallery to acquire three paintings by London-based painter Mike Silva. Silva paints from his own photographs, creating images of his friends and lovers which are fixed to a specific moment in time. Silva works to capture the textures of daily life, approaching portraiture and the depiction of domestic interiors with unique intimacy and tenderness.

Chief Curator of Art Galleries for Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Julie Milne says that the Laing Art Gallery is “delighted to be acquiring works by Mike Silva, who is a brilliant painter of people and still lives, strengthening yet further the Laing Art Gallery’s outstanding collection of work by British painters. We are in the process of rehanging our permanent collection, ensuring there are pictures on the walls representative of people of all backgrounds and as a trusted public institution we are committed to addressing the kind of erasures, omissions and incomplete narratives that are inherent in many public collections of British art.”

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Mike Silva, ‘Jason in Hyde Park’ (2020), oil on linen, 76 x 101 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and The Approach Gallery.

Milne is hopeful that the new acquisition will “further open up conversations about identity and representation, collections and curation.” As an artist whose London background and mixed-race identity leaves him feeling “simultaneously very British but also not British at all”, Silva’s words and tender artistic exploration of identity will compel visitors to think more deeply about the British identity and its representations in major art collections.

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Mike Silva, ‘Kitchen Window’ (2020), oil on linen, 50.8 x 61 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and The Approach Gallery.

Moving from our relationships with each other to our relationship with the natural world, The Hunterian in Glasgow has confirmed that it will be receiving a feature-length “avant-garde nature film for children” entitled Eglantine, 2016, by Glasgow-based artist Margaret Salmon. As Glasgow prepares to host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), Salmon’s work will resonate with the museum’s existing landscape collection to bring the natural world right into the museum.

Mungo Campbell, Deputy Director of The Hunterian, has said that “support from CAS through the Rapid Response Fund represents a wonderful expression of optimism about the future return of public visits to some of Britain’s great museum and gallery collections. We are looking forward to welcoming our visitors to see familiar works, and, importantly, new acquisitions.”

Based in Preston, Lancashire, The Harris is another proud recipient of the CAS Rapid Response Fund, whose support has allowed the gallery to add a ceramic pairing and work on paper by Shawanda Corbett to its collection. Originally from Mississippi but currently based in Oxford, Corbett has been announced as one of the recipients of the Turner Prize bursaries for 2020, and has just opened her first UK solo show at the Corvi Mora Gallery in London.

Shawanda Corbett works largely as a ceramics painter, decorating pairs of vessels inspired by memories of her childhood and the neighbourhood in which she grew up. Corbett also creates performance works that combine poetry, music, dance and prose, and The Harris have expressed interest in commissioning one such work once it is safe to do so.

Cabinet member for culture and leisure, Councillor Peter Kelly has released the following statement:

“We are delighted to have been successful in our application to the Contemporary Art Society’s Rapid Response Fund. When we re-open our galleries later this summer we will not only be reflecting on the impact of Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement with our local communities – but also testing new ideas and objects for our major redevelopment project Harris Your Place.

“The ceramics and drawings by Shawanda Corbett will go on immediate display and be used as points around which we explore ideas relating to memory, community and creativity with our visitors. Corbett’s work is hugely inspirational and, when it is completely safe to do so, we hope to invite the artist to Preston to perform so we can showcase the full range of her artistic practice.”

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Installation view of the exhibition “Neighbourhood Garden” by Shawanda Corbett at the Corvi Mora Gallery in London until 31 July 2020. Photo courtesy the Artist and Corvi-Mora, London. Photo: Marcus Leith.

The sixth award in this round of CAS funding went to Brighton Royal Pavilion & Museums, who have been supplied with 12 ceramic and tapestry works by Matt Smith. Smith’s work largely explores marginalised history, making the artist a highly suitable sixth member of this diverse group of CAS-supported artists.

Matt Smith, artist, said: “What museums collect, and what this tells us about what society deems important, is an ongoing fascination to me. Recent events have shown how important objects, and particularly sculpture, are in the national debate about who we are and how we got here. I have worked with the museums in Brighton and Hove many times over the last decade and am delighted that this acquisition leads on from that relationship. I look forward to seeing how the works are interpreted and curated to help the widest possible audience feel welcomed and visible within the museums.”

The CAS Rapid Response Fund cannot hope to support all of the artists whose income streams have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, but they can make a real difference in the lives of those they do help. By investing in the arts at a grassroots level, organisations like the Contemporary Art Society can help maintain a thriving art economy in the UK.

Article by Toby Buckley.

To learn more about the Contemporary Art Society, visit their website here.

The artwork shown at the top of the pages is ‘Headphones’ (2020), oil on linen (39.4 x 49.5 cm) by Mike Silva. Image courtesy of @mikesilvapainter and @approachgallery