Later this month, the Photographers' Gallery will close for a year to allow a comprehensive refurbishment of their Soho premises.
When the Gallery moved to its current Ramilles Street home at the beginning of 2009, the plan was for the building to be bulldozed, and an all-new, six-storey space be erected in its place. Those plans were scuppered by the recession, and hence the trustees opted for plan 'B': remodel the existing building.
The new plans, though less ambitious, are still bold. The bookshop and cafe will be relocated to the ground floor, a smart move that should draw in passing foot traffic from nearby Oxford Street and Carnaby Street. There will be three floors dedicated to gallery space and one for educational facilities, and a lift will be installed, something the current layout, with its cramped staircase, sorely lacks.
The Gallery hasn't been without its critics in recent years. As reported in the British Journal of Photography, it has been called "out of touch" by some contemporary snappers, while the Financial Times critic Francis Hodgson takes a more extreme view: he thinks the whole enterprise should be shut down, and attention directed instead to existing institutions with photography collections, like the V&A, British Library, and the proposed National Media Museum extension. Of concern is the large amount of Arts Council money the Gallery enjoys, and the lack of a submission process for emerging British photographers, though the latter criticism is tempered somewhat by the annual freshfacedandwildeyed graduate show.
The design was undertaken by Irish firm O'Donnell + Tuomey, who also knocked up the scheme for the new LSE building at Aldwych. It is expected to take 14 months to complete, meaning the Gallery should re-open before the end of 2011. In the meantime, they plan to keep a high profile by hosting a number of events in and around Soho — we'll bring details of these as and when they are confirmed. During the closure, the Deutsche Börse show will relocate to the University of Westminster's P3 gallery in Marylebone.
The Photographers' Gallery will remain open until September 17th, and it's worth checking out current show, Sally Mann's The Family And The Land, before then.