A commission memorialising Reading Gaol’s most famous inmate, Oscar Wilde, is the first recipient of the CAS Rapid Response Fund following a crowdfunding campaign that has raised total donations to over £200,000. Artist Eleanor Lakelin has been commissioned on behalf of Reading Council and is one of three awards to be made by the fund, since its launch in May, alongside pieces by Rabiya Choudhry (GoMA in Glasgow) and Granby Workshop (The Victoria Gallery & Museum).
In 1895 Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in Reading Gaol and the prison has since become a key site within LGBT history. Despite, ‘Save Reading Gaol’, a recent community campaign to save the prison and turn the buildings into a community arts complex, the prison was sold to another, undisclosed bidder by the Ministry of Justice in April 2020.
An avenue of diseased chestnut trees that would have shaded the gaol when Wilde was incarcerated there was also felled just before the lockdown and the funds provided by the Contemporary Art Society will enable the commission of artist Eleanor Lakelin to create an artwork made from their timber. The Council was keen to create a lasting artwork from the felled wood. It will take its title “Oh beautiful world!” from the words Wilde was supposed to have uttered on leaving the gaol. The work will go on display at Reading Museum when it reopens to the public.
“Reflecting Wilde’s interests in Classicism and beauty, the piece will evoke the refinement and balance of classical objects”, Eleanor Lakelin commented. “At the same time, I will use burred sections of the Horse Chestnut tree, which stood outside the gaol during Wilde’s incarceration, to disrupt the form and suggest the fragile nature of our existence – the short distance between fame and humiliation, health and sickness, beauty and sorrow.”
GoMA in Glasgow and the Victoria Gallery & Museum in Liverpool will also be receiving works by artists and craftspeople with strong links to their regions. Three works by Glasgow-born artist Rabiya Choudhry will form the centrepiece of GoMA’s reopening exhibition Domestic Bliss. A neon work celebrates Glasgow’s Asian shop owners, ‘essential workers’ during the Covid-19 crisis, whilst two paintings address mental health and the internal and external factors that affect it – a conversation even more prevalent within the context of lockdown.
The Victoria Gallery & Museum will receive a room size body of work by Liverpool’s Granby Workshop who, founded in 2015 as part of the Turner-Prize winning collaboration between Assemble and The Granby Four Streets Community Land. Granby Workshop is operated by a group of residents in Liverpool’s Toxteth area, who use local materials – many collected from the disused Victorian terraced houses in the Granby Street neighbourhood – to craft ceramic products.
“We have acted as quickly as we could to mobilise resources to mitigate some of the effects of the current crisis on artists”, said Caroline Douglas, Director, Contemporary Art Society. “In designing this new fund we have tried to make it work doubly hard, supporting our Member Museums as they prepare to open their doors again, and resume their place within their communities.”
The CAS Rapid Response Fund, in partnership with Frieze London, is a response to the Covid-19 pandemic to support both artists and museums across the UK. Museums which are members of the Contemporary Art Society are invited to apply to buy art and craft that will support their civic role when they reopen after the lockdown is lifted.
The fund is designed to support as many different artists and local museums as possible, based on the understanding that our museums will play a vital role in our communities as we exit the crisis. The money raised purchases artworks by British-based artists, providing financial support to artists, technicians and art handlers, many of whom work on a freelance basis and have seen their income streams decimated over recent weeks, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The CAS Rapid Response Fund also ensures that when museums reopen, they are able to reach out to their communities through new acquisitions, playing a vital role in civic healing and mental wellbeing.
Eva Langret, Artistic Director at Frieze London, said “With the first round of acquisitions being announced so soon after launching the campaign, it is particularly satisfying to see the rapid, cogent and direct impact that this initiative has on U.K. based artists and museums.”
The fund has already raised £207,000, which will support around 20 acquisitions. £100,000 was raised through the generosity of CAS Patrons and a further £107,000 has been raised so far through the CAS’s first crowdfunding campaign, which closes on 10 June 2020.
People who donate £35 will receive a limited-edition facemask designed by top artists – David Shrigley, Eddie Peake, Linder and Yinka Shonibare. £120 will buy a pack of all four. For those wishing to pledge further financial support, £2,500 will allow donors to become an honorary Patron of the Contemporary Art Society for a year. The crowdfunding campaign is only live for three weeks – from Wednesday 20 May to Wednesday 10 June.
The Contemporary Art Society’s partnership with Frieze London allows the campaign to reach even more art lovers and collectors, both attendees to the art fairs and readers of the magazines.
Applications are being reviewed by the 2020 CAS Acquisitions Advisory Committee, an external panel chaired by Caroline Douglas, Director of the CAS, consisting of leading curators, writers and artists (full committee list in notes to editors). Further purchases will be announced at the beginning of each month will continue as further funds are raised.