Entering through the hills on an impossibly narrow meandering road you have presented one the best views in Europe; the bay of St Ives. From there, while descending to this subtropical paradise, you are taken back a few centuries with the streets tighter and cobbled. Where the beaches are golden, natural life is lush, and the seagulls own the skies.

The architecture is typical of the area, stone houses, stained glass windows, wooden signs, small shops and a multitude of pubs and eateries proudly serving the same ten dishes. Everything is homogeneously faithful to the characteristics of the Cornish region. After passing two of the four beaches while strolling through history and taking in all the smells and the ever-present salinity, that feeling comes to an end. A reinforced concrete beigy-white boxy structure resembling a mid-range hotel from the French Riviera stands tall, consequently disrupting the delicate continuity of this immaculate bay. The feeling extends inside of the building as well, nonsensical placement of works of art, mismatched rooms and a substantial addition that does not follow the design of the original building. Evans and Shalev, two award-winning architects from London, designed the building and pushed the locals to approve the plan with several heated town hall meetings. Ultimately promising an influx of visitors and a rebirth of the area, Evans and Shalev persuaded the opposition to go ahead with the project. They pledged to create a structure that would pay homage to the local artists who lived and worked in the area, completely missing the mark on the physical appearance of the venue and how it permanently would change the visual grace of the coastline.

Alfred Wallis, Ben Nicholson, and Barbara Hepworth are displayed in the permanent exhibits but no sights of M W Turner or Henry Moore who first came to St. Ives in the mid-1800s; they are responsible for today’s prominent art scene and still a magnet for emerging artists looking for inspiration. A significant ceramist duo is also missing from the Tate, Bernard Leach, and Shoji Hamada, world-renowned potters who are so notable that took the cover of one of our past issues. (New Art Examiner, vol 33, No.1 Sept/Oct 2018)

Perhaps the most remarkable work of art in the Tate St. Ives is the appropriately sized and descriptionless masterpiece by Evans and Shalev. The precise placement of a square window on the second floor leading to the exhibit: the sandy beach just below the footsteps of the museum. A contemporary but timeless gem.

Ben Russo

Volume 33 no 5 May / June 2019

7 thoughts on “Fish Out of Water

  1. It would be lovely to see a photo of this window, since it sounds like it’s one of the most artistic aspects of this mountain of cement built in a very picturesque town. I once went on holiday to St Ives in the 60s and remember well the town then. It must have changed a lot since then, and also the artists. The works of Patrick Heron and Peter Lanyon are those that I remember the most.

    1. I agree with with Ben; St Ives Tate is a sell-out to postmodernism. Trendy, badly designed and flamboyant. This building reminds me of Saddam Hussein’s palaces built on the banks of the Tigris or in Las Vegas. The alarming truth is that the building denies the core values of the St Ives School of Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo and others. The Sense of Place resides in the native architecture of St Ives and Cornwall, the aesthetic of granite – not the wedding cake of self-conscious decorative features that St Ives Tate orchestrates. The mountain of cement would be appropriate in Las Vegas next to Caesar Palace, in my opinion. Yes, the view out of the window is spectacular, but the architects did not design the view which inspired the aesthetics of the St Ives artists, instead of an Art Museum which denies the legacy of those whose memory should be respected. I often speculate to myself what Ben, Barbra, Naum and Bernard Leech would say if they returned to visit the topsy turvey resting place of their highly refined art. I am sure the education department of the St Ives Tate has a hard job explaining this conflict of purpose.

    2. Hi George,
      You’re a nostalgic, but I am too I suppose. I remember St Ives when it wasn’t an outdoor shopping centre mobbed by tourists in the summer. It used to have a relaxed, easy going atmosphere, where you could breathe the art in the air. It was there, and it was intense. Though I know the Tate St Ives is trying to do their part to return the town to its old glory, I’m not so sure this is the way. The Tate building disturbs me too, as it definitely doesn’t fit in with the local architecture, though the view from the upstairs windows is truly spectacular. You should come back to see St Ives, when the tourists have gone home in October.

    3. Hi George,
      I’m a nobody, who also used to go to St Ives in the sixties so that I could find inspiration and paint. It was a stunning little town, but I imagine it still is. There was the feeling that it was the place to be if you wanted to go anywhere with your work, a kind of momentum. Nice memories.

    4. Can we start a reunion? All the oldies and baldies who painted in St Ives in the sixties, raise your hands. I can’t quite remember what I was painting at the time, but I spent a few summers there myself. Sad to read about the Tate’s cement factory on the beach.

    1. Thank you Ben for the photo; it gave me a better idea of what you were talking about.

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