Sheffield’s much-loved Graves Gallery is set to welcome visitors again from Friday 3 September following a six-month programme of refurbishment and re-display. New displays making their debut include an exhibition of work by sculptor Mark Firth, the first chance to see Pandemic Diary, a new series of drawings by Phlegm, a new exhibition curated by pioneering artist Keith Piper, as well as a new display on the theme of landscape. 

Sheffield Museums’ initial programme of redevelopment and re-display has seen walls re-cladded in three of the main galleries, which had remained largely unchanged since the gallery opened in 1934, as well as redecoration to breathe new life into the display spaces. In addition to the improvements, the gallery has also seen a complete changeover of a third of the artworks on display.

The first new exhibition in the gallery celebrates the work of sculptor Mark Firth. Precision as a State of Mind (3 Sep 21 – 15 Jan 22) will include 83 new and recent works, including Ten Cubes for Sheffield (2019-20), a new series made exclusively for the exhibition. The works on display showcase Firth’s continual preoccupation with geometry and his exploration of the meeting point between art and engineering. Firth’s practice reflects a long family connection to Sheffield’s engineering history – his great, great grandfather was the steel magnate and philanthropist Mark Firth, whose generosity helped found the University of Sheffield.

Mark Firth, Cube Roots, 2003 ©Mark Firth

Also on display in the gallery will be Pandemic Diary (2020) by Phlegm – a collection of 67 pen and ink drawings and one engraving, which go on public display for the very first time. This new acquisition chronicles the acclaimed artist’s response to lockdown and joins the city’s visual art collection thanks to funding from the Contemporary Art Society Rapid Response Fund. This vital fund was set up to allow organisations to continue to collect works during the pandemic.

Phlegm, Social Distance (Pandemic Diary series, no. 8), 2020 ©The Artist

Another new highlight is a powerful exploration of alternative and outsider perspectives on our recognised histories curated by artist Keith Piper, one of the co-founders of the seminal Blk Art Group. The new display is led by Piper’s own large-scale work The Seven Rages of Man (1984-2018), which imagines seven ages, or rages, through which the black dispersed population has passed, but also the future to come. Alongside the work, Piper presents objects from the city’s collection offering visitors a chance to reflect on the histories they represent, including currency issued by the Royal Africa Company, which transported more people into slavery than any other British company in the history of the Atlantic slave trade, and t-shirts protesting South African apartheid in the 1980s.

Keith Piper, The Seven Rages of Man (detail) ©The Artist

The final gallery redisplay embraces the theme of landscape and showcases many of the remarkable landscape paintings and works on paper from the city’s collection. Returning favourites including JMW Turner’s Opening of the Vintage at Macon (around 1803) and Sheila Fell’s Snowscape, Cumbria (1977) go show alongside new additions including works from Fay Godwin’s atmospheric Yorkshire photographic series Remains of Elmet (1979) and another new acquisition of work by Haroon Mirza, which joins the city’s collection through the generosity of the artist and facilitated by the Contemporary Art Society.

Kirstie Hamilton, Director of Programmes at Sheffield Museums, said:

“The Graves Gallery is one of the city’s cultural jewels. The generous support from the Ampersand Foundation has enabled us to breath new life into its spaces through refurbishment and redecoration, develop displays which bring compelling new perspectives and create a vital and vibrant programme of continuing change over the coming years. We’re thrilled to reopen the gallery with new work from Mark Firth and Phlegm, who both share strong links with Sheffield, and a powerful new display by Keith Piper re-examining the histories represented through the city’s collections.”

The Graves Gallery will reopen on Friday 3 September – entry to the gallery is free. There’s no need to book, but numbers in the building will be managed and measures put in place to ensure everyone is able to visit comfortably and confidently.

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