• Nottingham has a crappy castle but some good galleries. I’ve updated this guide I made in 2010, so it’s still useful today. The best place to start is Nottingham Contemporary, but there’s lots more…
• Nottingham has quite a lot of art activity, and though the well-regarded Moot gallery closed in 2010, there’s still plenty left to see if you choose the right time. Note that Derby is a short train ride away, and hotel-wise it’s cheaper (and, at weekends, quieter) to stay there and commute to Nottingham – so I’m also posting a separate art map for Derby. The map above lists the main places in Nottingham to investigate – there’s also a list below. Most venues only have intermittent shows, and experience suggests that the smaller places don’t necessarily open when their websites say they will, so phone in advance to check. If short of time the main venues are the best bets anyway: New Art Exchange, an impressive venue a fun tram ride from the centre, with a cafe which serves lunch; the sprawling 1960s Lakeside Arts Centre housing the Djanogly and Wallner galleries (get a bus on Castle Boulevard and ask for the Uni); and best of all, Nottingham Contemporary. Designed by Caruso St John, its lacy yellow and green exterior looks a bit like a kitsch easter cake, but the spacious three-storey interior makes tardis-like use of the steeply raked triangular site. (To see it being built, go back in time via Google Streetview here.) There’s a nice bar/cafe serving a good range of drinks including “craft” beer and euro-lagers (the new trendy thing); it’s open late and has a sunken terrace nestling beneath the tramway, so it’s a pity they don’t do evening meals. And the art? Well, at time of writing I’ve only seen the venue’s second show, Star City: The Future Under Communism (in April 2010) – but if that thoughtful, varied and fascinating take on the Soviet space race represents the typical standard, then I’ll be visiting again. Inclusive but not patronising, enlightening yet entertaining, and with a nice cafe attached – it’s what public arts venues are meant to be like. London’s ICA should take note. (2012 update: I did go back, and it was just as good.)
• The best web resource I’ve found for Nottingham art is Nottingham Visual Arts Magazine at nottinghamvisualarts.net, which lists all venues and upcoming events. However it doesn’t currently list the venues’ addresses, URLs and opening times alongside the show details (why is this easily-remedied oversight so common?), which necessitates quite a bit of page-hopping and note-taking. To save time, I’ve collated all the main venue details together below.
The major public arts venues
Weekday Cross, Notts NG1 2GB
• As detailed above, the must-see place if there’s a big show on. It’s right by the tram line so makes a good start and end point; indeed, you could end it all here if things get too bad. Or end up at the bar if not.
New Art Exchange
39-41 Gregory Boulevard, Notts NG7 6BE
• Unworthily, I thought this attractive multi-cultural art space would be full of worthy box-ticking work. There was a bit of that, but in fact I saw some of the best art of my trip here, and the website shows this standard continues, with a really energetic mix of exhibitions. It’s right opposite a tram stop, and well worth the nice 10 minute ride.
Djanogly Gallery & Wallner Gallery
Lakeside Arts Centre, University Park, New Lenton, Notts NG7 2RD
• Part of the university, this is one of those low-rise, slightly crumbling, hessian-vibe venues that doesn’t really do fine art any favours. Its main raison d’etre seems to be performance / smelly food / keeping the kids happy, and the two galleries are hard to locate, even on the website. Nevertheless the Djanogly sometimes has major touring shows, while the Wallner hosts smaller local shows, some of merit; it’s definitely worth checking what’s on.
ARTIST-RUN PROJECTS & SPACES
Interesting, but not always open (understatement)
Tether / The Wasp Room
7a Huntingdon Street, Notts NG1 3JH
• Almost wilfully confusing, in best “edgy art space” style. Tether is the outfit, and The Wasp Room their main exhibition space – if you can find it, and if it’s open. Even the geezer in the junk shop next door didn’t know it was there, and clearly thought I was mad. When I did find it, it was closed, contrary to what the website said (they didn’t answer their phone, so I went on spec). This despite, apparently, being supported by the Henry Moore Institute and National Lottery. It was pretty annoying – I was on a tight schedule, and would have liked to see the installation, Trans Chaosmos Facility. For the record, their website says: “The Wasp Room is located within Tether Studios, above a carpet shop at the top of Huntingdon St in Nottingham.” But don’t build up your hopes. (2012 update: The Wasp Room is no longer with us, and Tether seem to have mutated into an online TV project. Details of both are still available from the websites, above.)
6 Southwell Road, Notts NG1 1DL
• Thanks to messing around at The Wasp Room I ran out of time to visit this experimental co-operative, which is a pity as it’s in an interesting-looking area (in my lexicon, “interesting area” usually equates with “decaying semi-industrial wasteland”), as described on their website: “located behind the Ice Arena, just off Huntingdon Street, next to the Old Drum Centre and opposite Pretty Windows Day Nursery”. (2012 update: still in action, though not much on. No change there then.)
Backlit / Box
The Factory, Dakeyne St, Notts NG3 2AR
• Ditto, though I went there on Google Streetview and it looked like a good building. It’s a studio complex founded by Nottingham Trent students in 2008, which sometimes has shows – check the home page of the rambling website for details. Backlit is the main space, while upstairs Box is a purpose-built 12 foot square space in which 12 shows will open on the 12th of each month in 2010. Should have been 2012, surely? (2012 update: status uncertain as Backlit’s website is under construction, and Box’s dormant since June 2011.)
Max Warburg Space
17a Huntingdon Street, Notts NG1 3JH
• New experimental art space, with not much info available at time of writing. (2012 update: an obscure Tether offshoot which now seems defunct.)
Broadway Media Centre
14-18 Broad Street, Notts NG1 3AL
• As Hermann Göring almost said, “when I hear the words Media Centre, I reach for my gun”. Only joking – this is actually a lively art-house cinema which shows digital and film-based art in its public spaces – or, when I visited, in its public toilets. And it was a 12-hour work, which adds a whole new dimension to the phrase “pushing it”. But the art seemed like a bit of a sideline; the staff weren’t very clued-up about it, and it was easy to miss. (2012 update: still there, still hard to work out if there’s any art on show.)
One Thoresby Street / Trade Gallery
1 Thoresby Street, Notts NG1 1AJ
• The one-time home of the well-regarded Moot Gallery (it closed, after five years, at the end of June 2010), this hosts occasional shows. There are lots of art organisations in residence, including Trade, Annexinema and The Reading Room, which can all be accessed from One Thoresby Street’s website. (2012 update: still reasonably active.)
Historic buildings, iffy experiences
Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Friar Lane, off Maid Marian Way, Notts NG1 6EL
• The castle is tacky and unpleasant, thronged with families pretending to murder each other with arrows, but it does host occasional art shows – though one must pay handsomely to enter. Sadly the exhibition I saw was much worse than expected, even though organised by Moot.
16 St James’s Street, Notts NG1 6FG
• It sounds good on paper: a friendly community cafe with food, bar and gallery in an attractive restored music hall overlooking a tiny lane. In practice the burger and beer were tasteless, and the art sixth-form dross. The building lived up to expectations, at least.
Occasional exhibitions, quality may vary
Nottingham Society of Artists
71-73 Friar Lane, Notts NG1 6DH
• Old-skool daubing.
The Art Organisation
21 Station Street, Notts NG2 3AJ
• Community art in an ex-hardware shop.
The Bonington Gallery
The Bonington Building, Dryden Street, Notts NG1
• The exhibition space of Nottingham Trent University.
25 Stoney Street, Notts NG1 1LP
• Show space for New College Nottingham’s art, design, fashion and media students.
Harrington Mill Studios
Leopold Street 1st Floor Turret H, Long Eaton, Notts NG10 4QE
• Big old warehouse with studios for “wet and dirty work” plus a gallery for hire. There would have to be something pretty amazing on to trek out this far.
The Moss Gallery
179 Wollaton Street, Notts NG1 5GE
No website found
• Occasional exhibition space in Wollaton Street Studios. But the only place it shows up in Google is on my own blog, so I doubt it exists any more.
• In addition, there are all sorts of other bitty arty venues – see Nottingham Visual Arts Magazine at nottinghamvisualarts.net for up-to-date details.
ART EVENTS (NOW ENDED)
Sideshow, 22 Oct–18 Dec 2010
• 15 new artists’ commissions involving 100 artists from the UK collaborating with 50 organisations, selected by a powerhouse curatorial cast including Rob Bowman, Artangel; Lotte Juul Petersen, Wysing Arts Centre; Phil Duckworth and Ben Sadler, Juneau Projects; and Kitty Anderson, The Common Guild.
British Art Show 7, 23 Oct 2010–9 Jan 2011
• Organised by Hayward Touring, it takes place every five years and tours to four different cities across the UK. This one, the seventh, starts in Nottingham across three venues: Nottingham Contemporary, New Art Exchange, and the horrible Castle. It then moves on to London, Glasgow and Plymouth, altering focus each time. Subtitled (for art-speak reasons) Days of the Comet, it features 37 artists, lots of whom were also in Tate’s “Altermodern” Triennial (and some of whom were pretty half-baked there). The good names include Karla Black, George Shaw, Varda Caivano, Roger Hiorns, Ian Kiaer, Christian Marclay and – hoorrah – Phoebe Unwin, someone I’ve had my eye on for ages, but who rarely peeks above the radar.