When the Hayward Gallery, the home of visual arts at the Southbank Centre, opened on the banks of the River Thames in 1968, the now-iconic building faced a steady stream of criticism who hated its design’.
But now, 50 years later, as it celebrates its anniversary it reopens following a two-year refurbishment, public opinion has shifted. Public opinion has not only change about the gallery but also about the notorious Brutalist architecture, for which the gallery is famous.
The focus of the renovation was its 66 pyramid skylights, one of the building’s most recognisable features. Designed to make use of the natural light so prized by artists and curators, they’ve never worked as intended – letting in rainwater to the extent that a false ceiling had to be built to protect the interior from the elements. This false ceiling reduced the height of the exhibition space by several metres, limiting the range of works it could display.
Removing this ceiling and repairing the roof lights gives the galleries "an amazingly luminous and voluminous feel," says Ralph Rugoff, who has been director of the gallery since 2006. The repairs also make for a better visitor experience, too.
The exhibition that reopens the Hayward is the first major UK retrospective of the work of the German photographer Andreas Gursky (to 22 Apr). It features 60 of his spectacular large-scale photographs, portraying such dazzling scenes as a warehouse packed with products ready for distribution; windows in the Paris district of Montparnasse; and the abstract swirl of a Bahraini race course shot from above.
Gursky, who has exhibited all over the world since he started producing work in the 1980s, had his last solo show in London in 2007 at the White Cube. His practice of digitally manipulating images to create scenes that are familiar but not actually "true" in the strict sense of the word couldn’t be more relevant to the current discussion around "fake news," with false images used to support particular stories and political agendas.
The exhibition is also a fitting way to reopen the Hayward after its two-year closure.
"Gursky is a hugely influential artist and a pioneering innovator, whose work explores changing aspects of our contemporary landscape in different areas around the world," says Rugoff. "We wanted to reopen the gallery with a show by an artist who has changed his medium, much in the same way as the design of the Hayward set a new direction for gallery architecture which today is being copied quite widely."
The rebuild at the Hayward has been a long time coming—but it’s well worth the wait.