A total fiasco is taking place in Paisley. The art galleries are gone, replaced by 60 digital displays, a café, picnic areas and a museum. Paisley Art Institute is virtually homeless in its 147th YEAR. At the cost of £45 million, Paisley Art Galleries and Museum is being “reimagined” by deleting the word ART. The once famous building, founded in 1871, designed by Honeyman of Mackintosh fame and gifted by the Coats family, is being turned into a museum—a scandal.
Look on the ArtUK website. Paisley has one of the largest art collections in Scotland, including 900 paintings, with half of these, 450, belonging to Paisley Art Institute. Yet in this expensive ‘reimagining’, there is no mention of the visual arts, no mention of the famous paintings by Corot, Fantin Latour, Boudin, Daubigny, Glasgow Boys Lavery, Hornel, Henry, Cameron, Park, Gauld, Guthrie etc. or Colourists Cadell and Hunter, no mention of accommodating touring or contemporary art exhibitions like the popular, well attended Paisley Art Institute Annual show which has run for almost 150 years, with gaps for wars etc. Search the “museum’s PR blurb. Not a word about art. Art is not just ignored but is being driven out.
Paisley Art Institute was founded in 1876, 5 years after the impressive building opened – so it is approaching its century and a half, “We are due our civic reception in 2026!!” says chairman Joe Hargan. “The Paisley Art Institute showed in the first large gallery in 1882 and the sculpture area given by Sir Peter Coats, and then we exhibited in the extended galleries, which were completed by 1915. So we have a long history there!”
This ‘reimagining” is being trumpeted by OneRen (the renamed Paisley Renfrewshire Leisure) as “delivering Scotland’s biggest cultural heritage project…creating a world-class museum space… working with a wide range of communities locally and globally over the past six years to reimagine and redefine the museum and our collections… with fresh and dynamic insights into the role of the museum. This represents a real shift in practice.”
Wow! Yes indeed. Or as architect Gordon Gibb puts it, “If all high art is being replaced with low and agenda-prioritised offerings, what will it ever tell us that we didn’t already know?” Moreover, art exhibition spaces in Glasgow and the west of Scotland are already “as rare as hen’s teeth.” Paisley’s £45m spend has made things worse.
The problem with this radical brief is that, as an artist and Glasgow chairman Robert Kelsey points out, by evicting PAI from its usual annual slot, there is a lack of opportunity for contemporary artists to show their work in the vicinity. It’s so very short-sighted for the community. Local kids will lack role models. “It may not be so problematic for existing names, but the upcoming generations suffer.”
For at least the past 40 years, there have always been significant art exhibitions at Paisley. As Herald art critic between 1981-2000, I personally wrote 37 reviews of exhibitions held in that magnificent classical building. Now it’s been transformed into a museum. What a loss, a destruction, a travesty. In pursuing “a radical reimagining,” the district council has destroyed over a century of Fine Art.
Top Photo Courtesy Paisley Art Institute Words: CLARE HENRY