Free Culture Spots: The Wilson, Cheltenham Art Gallery

While the galleries and exhibitions of major cities may so easily draw the eye, it’s important not to overlook the smaller players in the UK’s art scene. So for this particular edition of our culture spot series, we’ll be paying some much-deserved attention to a wonderful little gallery in the heart of Gloucestershire.

The Wilson opened its doors back in 1989, and is named after local painter Edward Wilson (it’s worth noting that he was also a physician, natural historian and polar explorer, so he was decidedly multi-talented). The gallery is also a part of The Cheltenham Trust, a charity dedicated to enriching the lives of both residents and visitors through art, culture, heritage and sport, as well as play and performance.

The gallery itself is a sleek, contemporary space that is somewhat typical of modern UK exhibition centres. This isn’t a criticism by any means; galleries always tend to earn serious aesthetic points with me through their use of glass, steel, and architectural innovation. The Wilson is no exception, and certainly delivers on those all-important visual first impressions.

For the traditionalists, there’s plenty of paintings and sculptures; a particular highlight is A Relieved Platoon by artist Fred Roe. This painting becomes the main focus point to the exhibition At Last Fighting is Over, a commemorative examination of the end of the First World War. Not only does it serve as an intimate reflection of our history, but also provides a fascinating insight into political art.

You can also take time out in the Friends Gallery, which currently houses A Sense of Place, a display which explores our associations with place not only through geographic location, but also through more abstract concepts such as identity, memory, and consciousness. While it may not necessarily be the prettiest of exhibitions, it’s a wonderfully intriguing consideration of what it is to be at home, and the subjective interpretations this notion holds.

In addition to some world-class artistic collections, The Wilson offers a more unusual attraction of granting the public access to their archives. This may not appeal to all visitors of The Wilson by any means, but unsurprisingly, I was delighted to get a glimpse behind the scenes. Here you can build up an understanding of how the collections are meticulously documented and recorded, with the opportunity to delve into the history of the gallery itself.

The top floor plays host to a space that is altogether more current. Here you’ll find the critically acclaimed Where Now? a ‘disruptive art project’ that focuses upon climate change. As you immerse yourself in this exhibition, you’ll be greeted by a plethora of inflatable clouds and neon lights (safe to say I was in my element here) that strikes an intriguing juxtaposition between modern contention and artistic engagement. Interactive, poignant, and unashamedly aesthetic, it’s the jewel in the crown of The Wilson’s sterling portfolio. Where Now? Will be on display for the remaining Summer, so get your skates on.

As most of you will be aware, my love of arts and culture is pretty boundless ( and I hope it’s a sentiment shared with many of you reading this) so I’m therefore a fierce advocate of the UK art scene. And while I adore the likes of Manchester Art Gallery, Tate Modern, and other major players, it’s really the smaller galleries like The Wilson that work the hardest. Galleries that aren’t as established, lack funding, or are perhaps less well known, can sometimes struggle to continue to connect and engage with visitors on a wider scale. And this is an absolute shame- The Wilson is crammed full of varied, intriguing works that are rich in quality and aesthetic prowess. It is therefore incredibly important to support smaller galleries in order to maintain a thriving, diverse art scene in the UK. So if you’re looking to delve into some culture for an afternoon, get behind some low-key exhibition spaces and show them some love. And make sure The Wilson is at the top of your list.

To find out more about The Wilson Art Gallery and its current displays and programmes, visit https://www.cheltenhammuseum.org.uk/

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