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The CAS acquires 106 works by 16 artists for museums and communities across the UK
Claudette Johnson, Doing Lines 1 (Lockdown) Line Journeys, 2020, oil pastel on paper. 102 x 77.5 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Hollybush Gardens.

LONDON.- The Contemporary Art Society’s Rapid Response Fund has bought 106 works of art for 16 museums across the UK, financially supporting artists and helping museums reach out to new audiences as they beginning their re-opening programmes as coronavirus-based restrictions ease.

The final round of acquisitions includes a drawing made in lockdown by Claudette Johnson, recent photographs of a community in during the height of the pandemic by Exeter-based photographer Michelle Sank and a mixed-media installation investigating the surveillance of Black bodies by Keith Piper, a founder of the BLK Art Group. This is the final round of funding as part of the Rapid Response Fund, which has seen £234,000 spent on museums around the UK.

A self-portrait by Claudette Johnson, an artist associated with the BLK Art Group, founded in Wolverhampton in 1979, has been acquired for the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry as it prepares to participate in Coventry City of Culture in 2021. Entitled Doing Lines 1 (Lockdown) Line Journeys, 2020, the oil pastel on paper drawing was created in lockdown. Johnson says “this is part of a series of larger scale 'warm-up' drawings - the equivalent of scales practice for a pianist. I make them when I have no sitters when I want to work from life, as a way of exploring line, trying to find a new way across a familiar body; when I want to work freely without too much reflection but at the same time with deep concentration.”

The piece will link to an exhibition at the gallery opening this autumn on the theme of Decentring, moving art historical narratives away from those that prioritise Western perspectives.

Francis Ranford, Cultural and Creative Director, Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, said: “Claudette Johnson is widely recognised as one of the most accomplished figurative artists working in Britain today and her drawings of Black men and women powerfully capture the character and humanity of her subjects. In fact the Herbert first exhibited Johnson’s work in 1983 as part of a ground breaking exhibition by the BLK Art group, so it’s wonderful to finally be able to add an example of her work to the permanent collection. She is an artist whose work we have long been interested in and we’re sure that this work will engage and inspire our audiences.”

Keith Piper, another founder member of the BLK Art Group, has also been supported through the Rapid Response Fund, with his multi-media installation Surveillance: Tagging the Other (1991) being acquired for The New Art Gallery Walsall.

This work was created in response to issues arising in the run-up to the formation of the European Union in 1992. The four monitors, installed in a row, show the artist's head being a target of surveillance and control. The Black body is scrutinised in terms of ethnicity, gender, citizenship and appearance. Sound is an important part of the work, featuring fragments of news reports related to the rise of racist attacks, anti-Semitism and right-wing tendencies across Europe.

Keith Piper, artist, said: “I am particularly excited that this work has found a home in the collection of the New Art Gallery Walsall during a period in which the European debate has arrived at the critical moment of ‘Brexit’. I hope that having this work in the collection will stimulate ongoing debate and examination of what has been a watershed period of recent British history.”

Stephen Snoddy, Director, The New Art Gallery Walsall, said: "Keith has strong connections with our region, having grown up in Birmingham, studied in Coventry and Nottingham (as well as London) and of course, he was a founder member of the highly influential BLK Art Group based in Wolverhampton. Though this work was created in 1991, it remains hauntingly pertinent today following the death of George Floyd and the demands for racial equality that have followed. It also connects with wider issues around surveillance and control in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In the longer term, the work will remain witness to turbulent times in British history and the struggles for racial equality. We plan to present the work next year, either as a stand-alone work or as part of a major solo exhibition we are developing with the artist for Autumn 2021."

The Rapid Response Fund has also supported Exeter-based artist Michelle Sank, acquiring a series of 8 photographs entitled Breathe, 2020, for Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter. They were taken in March and April 2020 whilst the artist was isolated from her partner and social group during lockdown.

Michelle Sank, artist, said: “I have been documenting – first with social isolation and then with lockdown – how people have managed private and public spaces during Covid on my daily walks in a neighbouring area “Burnthouse Lane” where I live in Exeter, Devon. This is an area that has a strong sense of community with a mix of social and ethnic diversity living side-by-side. I have been drawn to how people of all ages have negotiated this new way of being and how their interaction with these spaces has unfolded.”

Sank is an internationally acclaimed social documentary photographer whose work explores contemporary social issues. The series will be displayed in a new exhibition titled Funded with Thanks, with the artist leading walks around Exeter for the museum’s audiences.

In addition, four further acquisitions (seven in total) have been made through the Rapid Response Fund in July 2020. These have included:

• Reading the Realness, 2020-ongoing by Harold Offeh. Acquired for Leeds Art Gallery, it is a participatory work that critically considers the performance of self within contemporary media debates through the re-enactment of transcripts from TV panel shows. It is a performance, a methodology for future re-activations of the performance, and a generative archive of resulting documentation.

• Everybody in The Place: An Incomplete History of Britain, 1984-1992 by Jeremy Deller. The CAS is making a contribution to acquiring this film re-evaluating acid house and the social and political landscape of 1980s Britain for Manchester Art Gallery.

• Pandemic Diary, 2020 by Phlegm. 67 unique drawings and one etching created during lockdown, illustrating the artist's own experience and observations for Museums Sheffield.

• Holo Programme 155, 2020 by Francis Dinsley. An immersive installation that takes inspiration from Star Trek’s ‘Holodeck’ for the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

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