Although firstsite (Colchester's new art gallery) opened a couple of months ago, today was the first time my sister and I have visited it. Unfortunately it's been a wet day so we didn't spend long looking at the outside of the unusual building - we'll have to come back on a sunnier day!
Some facts about firstsite...
- The building is on a Scheduled Ancient Monument site so has no foundations, instead it sits on 24, 000 tonnes of hardcore from garrison buildings demolished in the town.
- In 1923 a Roman mosaic was discovered on the site of the new gallery and has now been reinstalled in it's original position in the new building.
- The building is clad in a copper and aluminium alloy that oxydises to a matt golden yellow (the aluminium stops the copper from turning green).
The gallery's first exhibition; 'Camulodunum' is inspired by Colchester's history as Britains' first city. There were a mixture of pieces on display - the items we most enjoyed looking at were from Colchester's history; posters and photos from the 1909 Colchester pageant, seeing the Roman mosaic and the history of Colchester's oyster feast. Although some of the other exhibits were interesting to look at I'm afriad I'm not a big fan of a lot of modern fine art; things that look like piles of rubble on the floor. I was a bit disappointed too that one of the rooms was closed due to technical problems - that will teach me to leave visiting so late.
I quite like the building - it's odd to walk in at first with walls leaning at different angles it makes you feel slightly dizzy but I liked the open lightness of the space. The gallery is being promoted as one of the largest contemporary art galleries in the UK so it seemed a shame that the curving, leaning walls limited the space for hanging artwork and we felt that overall there wasn't a lot of work on display. Also we had to hunt around for some of the labels for exhibits as they were quite far away from the actual work.
My last complaint - and this may just be me - but why are the toilet doors made of glass? They were frosted so you couldn't see through clearly but you could still see the silhouette of people through them - is this normal for public toilets?
We left with mixed feelings about the controversial gallery. It's been the cause of much debate locally having gone way over budget and opening later than planned due to building problems. I'm glad it is opened now though and I'm sure we'll be back - I'll be interested to see what exhibitions they have in the future.
For more info see the website: http://www.firstsite.uk.net/