It’s hard to believe that Portsmouth’s contemporary art gallery Aspex is 40 years old! Starting life on Brougham Road, Somerstown, in a building that needed so much repair by a group of young artists that just needed a creative space to be able to work and exhibit their art seems a long time ago. Fast forward to now achieving an anniversary like that means this gallery has been on a wonderful journey.
From its first exhibition back in 1981 to then moving to Gunwharf Quays in Old Portsmouth, this gallery has always been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to supporting local artists and also projects from around the UK. Selecting a building that would come to be one of the ONLY original naval buildings left on the site, with its distinctive huge naval storage doors means it has been a space that has been admired since its opening in 2006.
Aspex has secured the support of Arts Council England for a series of new commissions and projects planned to celebrate its 40th anniversary. The programme will enable the gallery to continue to deliver art and participatory activities online and locally through these ongoing uncertain times, along with support for the wider cultural ecology with £53,000 of the total £84,422 grant to provide artists and creative freelancers with essential paid opportunities.
There will be four new digital art commissions of Aspex (life begins) at 40 to be premiered on the gallery’s new website this Spring/Summer. They will provide an insight into the gallery’s archive and work over the last four decades, together with digital resources for families. The funding also enables Aspex to recommence its participatory work out in the local community with children and young people in Portsea, including a regular school holiday project, and a new Young Curators programme set to inspire the artists and cultural producers of the future.
The grant from Arts Council England will also provide the financial support needed to Bring Back the Southsea Dinosaur! The long-awaited tribute to Luna Park by Heather and Ivan Morison will be realised this summer – following the successful crowdfunding campaign in 2020 when 147 supporters and Portsmouth City Council raised over £10,000 to kickstart the fundraising for a bronze and augmented reality version of the dinosaur!
Joanne Bushnell, Director of Aspex said: “It’s been a really difficult start to the year for everyone, the natural optimism, and energy of a new year has been tested by the ongoing pandemic, terrible loss of life, continued lockdown, and recent news events. The arts and cultural sector continue to struggle for survival, particularly artists and freelancers. For this reason, we are extremely grateful that Arts Council England have supported our plans for 2021. We hope to bring art, light and joy back to our audience and to Portsmouth, to lift the spirits and share the life-enhancing power of creativity.”
While work on this new programme gets underway, the gallery will be launching a weekly series of stories from its archive. Established by artists in 1981 at the original Art Space Portsmouth site in Brougham Road before moving to the iconic Vulcan Building in Gunwharf Quays in 2006, Aspex has developed an international profile for supporting emerging artists at a key stage in their career. Joanne Bushnell, the current Director since 1999 will be joined by her predecessor Les Buckingham, Director from 1984-1999 to share 40 stories. Focusing on the history, key projects, standout solo exhibitions and education work with local communities, the stories will provide personal reflections shared on Aspex’s website and social media channels.
Aspex will launch its 40th anniversary exhibition programme with In Search of Chemoza an immersive multi-screen video work and documentary by artist duo boredomresearch. The artists previously presented Theatre of restless automata at Aspex in 2005, and have been invited back to present their new commission following on from a residency developing the work in 2018/19. Dates for the opening of the exhibition will be announced as soon as possible.
Although the 40 years anniversary cannot be celebrated in the usual way by gathering people together, the fact there is a new website on the way and focus on the gallery at this time is enough for us to support until we can go and see the Aspex in the flesh again.
Well done to Jo Bushnell and the team for all the hard work put into this gallery to be one of the best modern galleries we are lucky to have in the UK.
Find out more about the Aspex below.