* indicates required

New MK Gallery announces major exhibition to mark its reopening

Designed by 6a architects, in collaboration with artists Gareth Jones and Nils Norman, the new MK Gallery seeks to capture the original spirit of Milton Keynes, reflecting the natural world in its polished stainless-steel exterior surfaces inspired by the city’s original grid and the geometries of nearby Campbell Park.

It will provide spaces for major exhibitions both contemporary and historical, films, music, performance, family events, workshops, and social spaces, a place that puts a clear emphasis on community engagement, and democratic access to the best of the arts.

The new gallery will open with The Lie of the Land, an exhibition spread across all five of its galleries curated by director Anthony Spira, with Sam Jacob, Claire Louise Staunton, Fay Blanchard, Tom Emerson, Gareth Jones and Niall Hobhouse.

The exhibition takes the idea of leisure as its theme and how it has altered alongside changes in land ownership.

It features work by 85 artists, including Thomas Gainsborough, J.M.W Turner and Capability Brown, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Jeremy Deller and Bridget Riley.

It also includes new commissions such as a 60-channel sonic portrait of Milton Keynes by sound artist and composer Caroline Devine, a new film commission working with the community by Ed Webb-Ingall and an immersive installation by Project Art Works.

Mr Spira said: “In the spirit that created Milton Keynes, the new MK Gallery, on its 20th anniversary, aims to reinvent the idea of the art centre for our own time.”

MK Gallery originally opened its doors in 1999, nearly 30 years after the radical creation of Milton Keynes itself as Britain’s largest New Town. Sited prominently at the apex of Midsummer Boulevard in central Milton Keynes, the new MK Gallery is a dramatic extension of the old building, which is subtly updated and incorporated into the new one.

The development includes:

  • The creation of a sequence of five spectacular new double height exhibition galleries, the first over nine metres high, the others six metres high, providing space for major exhibitions of all kinds, with state of the art environmental conditions. 
  • The Sky Room, a fully flexible perfectly equipped new auditorium on the upper floor for up to 300 people, with spectacular views over Campbell Park and the surrounding countryside. It will be used as the first independent cinema for Milton Keynes, programmed with Curzon Cinemas.
  • A large community and learning studio, leading out into a playscape designed by Jones and Norman.
  • A new independent café and shop facing a new garden integrated within City Club.  
  • A new entrance with a colour scheme that revives the original gallery ‘sandstone and terracotta’ facade of 1999 with additional iconic signs from early Milton Keynes: a large red neon heart, the first ever logotype for Milton Keynes and a double headed axe, signs which are part of a homage to the city’s iconic original design. These tributes continue around the gallery through new commissions by Jones and Norman inspired by original 1970s planting schemes, city infrastructure, play equipment and public art. 

The public spaces around the expanded MK Gallery form part of City Club, a wide-ranging project by Gareth Jones and Nils Norman animating the top end of Midsummer Boulevard and infiltrating into the new building with alternative models of contemporary art.

“Both radical and inviting, serious and playful, it is fully accessible and the kind of building where I hope everyone will feel welcome,” said Mr Spira.

The new MK Gallery receives regular core funding from Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation and Milton Keynes Council, and is a member of Plus Tate network.

Milton Keynes Council leader Cllr Pete Marland said: “We are proud to be partners and funders of the new MK Gallery. We passionately believe that investment in culture is investment in the future health and well-being of our citizens and will help us to build the reputation and success of our city.” 

More from Bedford: