The Tate St Ives occupies an impressive three-storey building on the site of a former gas works that backs directly into the cliff face overlooking Porthmeor beach. It is close to the graveyard in which Alfred Wallis is buried. Thought up by architects Evans and Shalev, who said that the building was reminiscent of a Ben Nicholson painting, the intention of the design was to show paintings and other works in the atmosphere in which they were created. Glass is used to great effect within the structure, allowing the famous St Ives light to penetrate as much as possible. One window was designed by Patrick Heron, a well-known local artist. It is made of coloured antique glass sheets which have been laminated onto panels of clear glass. It does not have any of the black leading normally used in stained-glass windows, making it one of the largest unleaded stained-glass windows in existence.
Tate St Ives opened in 1993, the second regional gallery in the Tate network, although they had been managing the nearby Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture garden since it opened in 1980. Rather than holding a permanent collection of work, the Tate St Ives presents special exhibitions which change three times a year. By contrast, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, housed in the artist’s former home and studio, holds a permanent collection of bronze, stone and wood sculptures, together with paintings, drawings and archive material, offering a remarkable insight into the world of one of St Ives’ and Britain’s most important artists.
Artists have been coming to St Ives for centuries, but the phenomenal success of the Tate St Ives has helped to re-ignite the sense of a ‘St Ives school’. Since its inception, a number of other exciting projects have come to fruition, including the re-opening of the Leach Pottery and the renovation of Porthmeor Studios. Tate St Ives run an artist residency programme, which aims to develop the professional practice of artists who live and work in Cornwall.
Tate St Ives is open daily from March to October and Tuesday to Sunday from November to February. A rooftop restaurant, with spectacular views of the town and harbour, sells high-quality Cornish produce, while the gallery shop sells an excellent range of art books, gifts and cards, with an emphasis on local art, artists and landscape.