The University Gallery has reopened at Northumbria’s City Campus with a special event, which saw the unveiling of the new Woon Gallery of Asian Art and the announcement of this year’s Woon Art Prize winner.
The gallery’s new home on the ground floor of Sandyford Building includes the new Woon Gallery of Asian Art, which houses a rare and unique collection of art worth more than £6.4m. This represents one of the most important collections of Buddhist and Asian art in the UK and includes contemporary pieces by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol. The new gallery, which opened this week, has been created thanks to the generosity of philanthropist and Northumbria alumnus, Mr Wee Teng Woon and the Woon Brothers Foundation.
The opening event on 9 July also saw this year’s Woon Foundation Art and Sculpture Prize winners revealed, with Kara Chin receiving the £20,000 first prize fellowship.
This new gallery will operate alongside Northumbria’s contemporary exhibition space Gallery North and the University’s Art Collection. The Director of the University Gallery, Associate Professor Jean Brown, explains the Gallery’s new structure and its ambitious plans for the future.
“The refurbishment of the gallery spaces is the start of an exciting new period with a focus on widening participation and external engagement for the University and for Newcastle as a city,” Associate Professor Brown said.
“The University Gallery will now comprise Gallery North, the University Art Collection and the Woon Gallery of Asian Art.
“Gallery North is an experimental space used to showcase contemporary arts through a regular programme of practice research events and exhibitions. The University Collection is made up of around 3,000 paintings, drawings and sculptures as well as the archives of artists such as Norman Cornish and Charles Simms, which are used to support teaching, learning and research.
“The Woon Gallery of Asian Art presents the Woon Foundation Collection of Asian Art on long-term loan to the University alongside a number of contemporary pieces by Picasso, Warhol and Hirst. Together, these developments represent a hugely exciting new era for the University Gallery at Northumbria.”
The Woon Gallery of Asian Art
The Woon Gallery of Asian Art is the latest chapter in the University’s long, successful and ongoing relationship with retired Singaporean lawyer and Northumbria alumnus Mr Wee Teng Woon and the Woon Brothers Foundation.
Created through the generous support of the Woon Brothers Foundation, the new gallery space at City Campus officially opened to the public on 9 July 2018 and houses 47 rare and unique items from the Woon Foundation’s Collection to support research and public exhibition in the region.
Each item has been selected for its contribution to the understanding and application of craft and making, as well as the relationship of Buddhist art to culture and religious belief, practice, and devotion. In selecting items from the Woon Foundation Collection, Northumbria has specifically chosen depictions of the Buddha from different cultures and periods in order to bring a fresh perspective on the interpretation of Asian and Buddhist Art.
The collection also includes contemporary artwork by celebrated artists such as Damien Hirst, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, among others. Together, these pieces will be used as an education and research resource and will support Newcastle’s Cultural Strategy, providing for wide and inclusive access to unique items of artistic and cultural significance.
It is hoped having this collection on campus will support wider religious and cultural understanding, building on similar work currently taking place with Northumbria’s partners at the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas in Newcastle. Staff and students have been working with the church to explore the nature of the sacred across the major religions and on spaces where cultures and communities can intersect.
Professor Andrew Wathey, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive at Northumbria, said: "The Woon Gallery of Asian Art at Northumbria University's City Campus is home to a rare and unique Asian and contemporary art collection, generously on loan from The Woon Foundation.
“The gallery is now open to the public and will introduce a new dynamic resource for teaching, research and public engagement at Northumbria, further positioning the University at the heart of the cultural sector in the North East of England - and as a global destination for engaging with world-class art.”
Through the Woon Gallery and this unique collection of art, Northumbria will extend and build on key relationships between Singapore, China and the UK through greater cultural understanding. The Gallery and Collection will also be a dynamic centre for teaching Northumbria programmes including Conservation; Fine Art; Creative Industries Management; Visual Cultures; Fashion; History; and Design. It will also be used to develop a programme of workshops and school visits, which will be supported by educational materials.
Mr Woon said: “My brothers and I love art. We see art as having no barriers, borders or boundaries. It is the universal language and the natural expression of the human mind, heart and soul. We believe that students should benefit from a liberal and broad-based education with art included.
“Accordingly, we believe that the Woon Gallery of Asian Art and its collection will inspire and enrich students and provide real impact on research, teaching and scholarship for Northumbria. We are confident that it will create new collaboration opportunities with other museums and overseas universities as well as positioning Northumbria as a world-class destination for art.”
On the day of the Woon Gallery opening, Mr Wee Teng Woon and his brother Tek Seng Woon both received Honorary Doctor of Civil Law (Hon DCL) degrees from Northumbria during the University’s Summer congregation ceremonies, in recognition of their ongoing philanthropy and support for the arts.
The Woon Foundation Art and Sculpture Prize
The winners of this year’s Woon Foundation Art and Sculpture Prize have been announced.
Kara Chin, from The Slade School at University College London (UCL) was named the winner of the £20,000 first prize at a special prize-giving event at Northumbria’s Gallery North following the opening of the new Woon Gallery of Asian Art next door.
She will receive a £20,000 fellowship, which includes 12-month studio space, mentoring and a final exhibition, with catalogue. There were also three generous runner-up prizes announced, including a £9,000 2nd prize, which went to Rebecca Thomson from Glasgow School of Art, and a £6,000 3rd prize which will be split between students Isaac Moss and Sebastian Sochan.
Delivered jointly by Northumbria University and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, the Woon Foundation Prize is one of the UK’s most generous prizes for artists and has a total value of more than £40,000. Previous winners include the artist Holly Hendry who has gone on to national acclaim. Last year’s first prize winner was the artist Joy Labinjo who acted as one of the four judges for this year’s prize and who helped choose the 10 finalists.
Professor Dean Hughes, Head of Northumbria’s Arts department was also among the judges for this year’s prize.
“To be one of the judges for the Woon Prize in 2018 has been a thrilling experience. We saw a marvellously diverse body of work sent to us from undergraduate fine art students across the UK,” he said.
“What I found particularly compelling was the drive to locate, and find, new ways and forms of creative expression, which was evident in much of the work we saw.”
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