When an exhibition calls itself Art for Colchester then you know what you’re getting.
Ahh – but where exactly is Art for Colchester currently showing?
Now you’re just second-guessing.
You see the thing about an exhibition trading under the title of Art for Colchester is that we are blessed with many spaces in Britain’s Oldest Recorded where such a grand title is worthy of the gallery.
Art of Colchester is currently on show at The Minories. The title tells you all that need you need to know: the exhibition follows the story of collecting art in Britain’s Oldest Recorded, and in particular the work of the Victor Batte-Lay Trust.
Where to start?
Probably with the Big Man himself.
Born in Colchester in 1865, Victor Batte-Lay attended Colchester Royal Grammar School. He soon became an avid collector of art during a time when this was yet to be recognised as a worthy activity.
Fast forward to 1955 and Victor’s widow, Margaret Eleanore Batte-Lay, left the entire collection to the people of Colchester just before her death. It was an act of civic philanthropy that is still feeling the benefits around the town today.
The Victor Batte-Lay Trust was soon established, with the aim of making available this public art to the people of Colchester. The Minories seemed to fit the mold, and was purchased in 1956 ahead of an opening in 1958.
This was to be no museum of art retrospective. New pieces were purchased by the Trust and the collection continued to grow. This expansion continued all the way through until the mid ’80s, when the funding situation for the arts in the UK started to get a little squeezed by free market forces.
The Victor Batte-Lay Trust found itself in financial difficulty and the decision was taken to sell off some of the collection. All that was needed was a public-spirited benefactor that was able to afford to secure the legacy for the people of Britain’s Oldest Recorded.
Did someone say Colchester Borough Council?
Blimey – you try asking the current incumbents sitting around the Cabinet table to invest in the legacy of an artistic heritage for Sunny Colch.
Much of the work went into storage, which brings us bang up to date with Art for Colchester that is currently on display at The Minories. This is the pay off time where the Trust gets to return to the original building and offer up to the citizens of Sunny Colch some artwork that is rightfully theirs.
Walking around the main room at The Minories and you are presented with something much more than a public art collection. The history of collecting itself is told. The changing art climate in the 1960′s led to avant-garde works to be introduced and art collecting soon became sexy.
Which is a little simplistic, but a wander around the gallery space at The Minories will confirm how Art for Colchester captures perfectly the concept of an art collection, rather than stand alone pieces. Contained in the current exhibition is a Constable, a piece by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi and Ted Atkinson – a Wivenhoe artist who is still producing prints today.
And so Art for Colchester – it belongs (sort of) to us and is ours to enjoy. You can make the most of it at The Minories until 20th October, Monday to Friday, 10am – 4pm.
As is befitting for the theme of the collection, admission is FREE.