The Photographers’ Gallery is to close its doors on 19 September as its newish space on Ramillies Street is closed for a refurbishment that will see the gallery transformed into something approaching the original idea it set out before vacating Great Newport Street. These are straitened times, and the gallery doesn’t seem to have raised significantly away from Arts Council England, so it’s not quite the gleaming block of the future of those designs.
When it reopens, there will be three floors of gallery space and the cafe, Print Sales and Shop will return. There will no doubt be much glass and fresh paint. The external aspect should certainly be a lot more impressive making the gallery (hopefully) a bit more of a destination than it currently is. Access should be improved beyond the narrow winding staircase that is currently the main thoroughfare between floors.
If it feels a bit underwhelming its because gloss aside it doesn’t seem that much will change in terms of what is available for exhibiting photography. There are already three floors used for exhibitions after all. But making the building fit for purpose will be worthwhile and hopefully a grand reopening will raise the profile of The Photographers’ Gallery. Chris Steele-Perkins may have a point but it’s still the best and most visible space for contemporary photography in London – at least until the National Media Museum turns up.
So between now and the fanfare of completion, The Photographers’ Gallery will exist online (as a shop), in bars and other spaces (for small exhibitions), in Ramillies Street (Print Sales by appointment) and in artist-led projects (like Mr Bulldog). The cafe, sadly, will serve none of its splendid coffee for at least a year. It says a lot that into this vacuum there isn’t another high-profile photography space to steal the limelight.
Here’s hoping the gallery does reopen on time … and that it glistens …