Introducing Mima, Middlesbrough's Moma

Ian Herbert
Saturday 27 January 2007 01:00

Contrary to its reputation as a drab industrial town, Middlesbrough has a surprising number of artistic credentials. Its civic art collection includes works by David Hockney and Bridget Riley, the centre of the town is commanded by the sculpture Bottle O'Notes, which commemorates Captain Cook, a famous son of the town, and the town's Premiership footballers can also bring some culture when the mood takes them.

Yesterday, a £20m art gallery was added to its credentials, and with a crafty glance to New York's Museum of Modern Art (Moma), it will be known as Mima - the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. The acronym means "beautiful space" in Japanese, and the architect responsible for its creation is the Dutchman Erick van Egeraat, for whom this is a first British commission after projects including the Mariinsky II Theatre in St Petersburg and the Dutch Embassy in Warsaw.

Mr Van Egeraat has attempted to introduce some order to the concrete architectural chaos of central Middlesbrough, in which the Bottle O'Notes sculpture had long ago found itself lost amid car parks, public buildings and wasteland.

Mima and the sculpture now stand together on the edge of a new public square, but Mima provides most of the splendour. It includes plenty of the glass panels that typify Mr Van Egeraat's work but is also a model of simplicity. The building, opened by Sir Nicholas Serota last night, looks like a giant glass box with a wall of limestone running into it.

The town's wait for its equivalent to nearby Newcastle/Gateshead's Baltic complex has been a frustrating one. Construction of the complex began in July 2004 but a planned opening for 2006 was delayed because of environmental and security issues.

The new gallery will house the city's collection of modern, fine and applied art, a ceramics collection considered the most important of its kind in the country, five temporary exhibition galleries over 4000 sq metres, informal exhibition spaces, a café, shop, roof terrace, sculpture garden and lecture rooms.

There is plenty of international quality about its opening exhibition - "Draw" - which involves matching great modern artists with contemporary artists who have created new works for this exhibition. Pairings include Picasso and Chantal Joffe, Matisse and Chris Ofili, Duchamp and Ceal Floyer, and Bacon and Damien Hirst.

Loans for the exhibition include works from the Tate, British Museum, the Staatliche Museum in Berlin and the Scottish National Gallery. The furniture in the restaurant is designed by Gijs Bakker (co-founder of Droog Design) and the tableware by the ceramicist Takashi Yasuda. Future exhibitions that are planned include a Claes Oldenburg retrospective.

The decision of many industrial towns to attempt to imitate Bilbao, which was transformed by Fran Gehry's Guggenheim, has not always been successful, but Tyneside, to the north, has proved what powerful economic benefits the arts can bring. The challenge for Mima will be to draw people to a town which is a distance away from the A1. But, with a strong opening exhibition, there are hopes of 200,000 visitors in 2007.

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