Ben Uri Gallery, founded to showcase Jewish artists' work, to undergo 'complete reappraisal', sell half its works

Gallery to rededicate itself to work of immigrants of all background as it rids itself of 700 works


A prominent art gallery, founded a century ago to showcase Jewish artists, plans to sell or transfer half its artwork as part of a “complete reappraisal” of its aims, which includes setting up the first online dictionary of immigrant contributions to British art.

The Ben Uri gallery is to divest itself of around 700 works and redefine itself as Britain’s first museum and research body dedicated to the art of immigrants of all faiths and nationalities.

Some of the items to be sold, including works by artists such as David Bomberg and Mark Gertler, will be auctioned at Sothebys, with the funds generated expected to be in the region of £1.3m to £2m.

Others works will be given, free of charge, to institutions which can “generate meaningful public benefit” by exhibiting them.

The Ben Uri gallery in London was set up in 1915 to provide a venue for Jewish immigrant craftsmen and artists excluded from arts societies.

Speaking to the JC, David Glasser, executive chair of the Ben Uri, said: “What we’ve been trying to do is find a way of being relevant to the 21st century, adding distinctive public benefit.

“We’re in an incredibly competitive market. We’re in London, not Llandudno. Our opposition, in terms of gaining visitor attraction, is the Tate, the V&A, the National Gallery, National Portrait gallery… we can’t win that, long term. So how do we reposition the institution to genuinely make a difference?”

The Ben Uri, he said, is set to “transform principally into three areas”. One will be a “research unit for the study of the immigrant contribution to British visual art since 1900… whether its artists, publishers, critics, scholars — you name it”, which will be charged with “creating Britain’s first online dictionary of these contributions”.

Secondly, the gallery’s collection has been “refined and defined to match the research unit. One compliments the other. We’re no longer an art gallery that’s promoting anybody in terms of taking an artist and promoting them.

"We’ll buy one of your works, and you will go into our online dictionary. It will say where you come from, what age you arrived [in the UK], your education, your discipline — you may be a ceramicist, you may be a photographer – that’s how the collection is going to evolve over the next 100 years.”

The third major project is an arts and dementia institute, which the gallery describes as “developing researched and evaluated art interventions to… improve the quality of life of those living with dementia, their carers and those at risk, living in social isolation.”

Mr Glasser described the “overall response” to the planned developments as “incredibly positive and heartening.

“Obviously we consulted quite widely during the last number of years when we were developing this strategy.

“It makes the institution distinctive, relevant. It highlights, within the total picture of the immigrant story, the contribution of Jewish immigrants to British visual arts.”

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