THE Newcastle art gallery now known as Baltic 39 will open to the public on Friday with an exhibition called Switch.
It’s appropriate for premises that have switched name and management over the years, having originally been known as Waygood and then – briefly, after Newcastle City Council took over – as High Bridge Studios.
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art was announced as the new manager of the top-floor gallery – or galleries since there are two linked spaces – a few weeks ago.
Since the address of the gallery and linked artists’ studios is 39 High Bridge, the name Baltic 39 was chosen.
Art fans who regularly visit Baltic in Gateshead will be curious to see the opening exhibition which has been selected by the artist Phyllida Barlow.
She is no stranger to the Baltic way of doing things since she had a major exhibition there in 2004.
Called Peninsula, it was an extraordinarily ambitious affair made of concrete, timber, tarpaulins, bitumen and splattered paint, all assembled into a series of huge structures on Level 4.
The artist, after explaining her fascination for the world of objects, described her installation as “like a territory to be negotiated”.
A fascinating interviewee, Phyllida explained how she came to be born in Newcastle in 1944.
Her father, Dr Erasmus Barlow, had been working in London as part of a wartime unit studying trauma and head injuries.
“The trouble was, by the time wounded soldiers were getting back from the front line, they were usually two or three months into their injuries,” said Phyllida.
“They needed to get to patients sooner than that so they moved the unit up to Newcastle where they could study people who had been injured in the mines.”
The Barlows left the North East in 1947 so Phyllida has no memories of the region.
She went on to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and married Fabian Peake, son of Mervyn Peake, the famous artist and author of the Gormenghast trilogy.
A highly artistic family, it comes as no surprise to see a pair of Peakes – Fabian and Florence – represented in Switch, which also features 11 other London-based artists including several Slade graduates.
Painters, performance artists and specialists in film and sound art are in the mix which therefore holds the prospect of something for everyone.
Switch builds on a 2008 project organised by Barlow called ‘What do artists do?’ It promises to be as much about process as final product. We shall see.