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Feature: Tate Liverpool moves in with RIBA North until 2025

Andy Wolfden and Vanessa Scott spent the majority of Sunday 15th October trying, if not 100% succeeding, to establish some sense of control over the marks made by visitors and dozens of pens over the 4th floor gallery walls at Tate Liverpool.

Their workshop was the final act of Tate Liverpool’s first 35 years at Albert Docks, with the building as we know it. In two years’ time, when they reopen, their three floors of galleries will be unrecognisable, and the building will have had one of the most significant transformations of any working gallery in living memory, made possible by one of the biggest capital investments ever made to an existing public gallery space.

Since Tate Liverpool opened in 1988 few other galleries have opened with and sustained such a significant impact on the north of England. Their transformation is set to cost £29.7 million. It’s a vast amount of money, and one that has been debated in various circles, but probably an amount that’s been earned, given the impact both past and present of Tate Liverpool on Merseyside.

Since opening, over 20 million visitors have walked through their doors in ever-increasing numbers. While some might see the change up as uneccessary, the reality is that Tate Liverpool has never truly been fit for purpose (I mean that nicely).

Even in 1988 when it opened, artists were making bigger and bigger work, and elsewhere, in London, Tate was developing Tate Modern as a building that could accommodate vast installations in their Turbine Hall. Ever since then, the physical limitations of the gallery, even down to ceiling heights and room sizes, have made it hard to truly justify the idea behind the brand of ‘Tate of the North’.

Over the next two years, the stories and scribbles across Andy Wolfden and Vanessa Scott’s 4th floor murals will watch on quietly as the space around them is transformed. And once it is, Tate’s free displays can scale up, and their special exhibitions can be more ambitious.

The impact for visitors will hopefully be measured by the quality of the work when they reopen.

In the meantime, there are some really exciting things happening just a few minutes away at RIBA North’s base at Mann Island.

A week after closure, Tate Liverpool joined forces with RIBA North in the first of many exhibitions at the gallery next door to Open Eye, and the exhibition is far from an imposition on the architecture-focussed gallery, instead, looking at the future of sustainable architecture including the past, present and future implications of buildings and landscapes on our climate.

The exhibition is a welcome return to public-facing gallery programmes for RIBA North too, which has been all too quiet lately.

So, for the next couple of years, we are technically Tateless in Liverpool, but they’re here, and I’m excited to see how they adapt to being homeless for a while, and where their efforts might be placed for now.


Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith
Read more online later in the month about the Tate and RIBA collaboration (it opened just before we went to print, and deserves much more text than we’ve got space for in this issue).

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