Director Ralph Rugoff reflects on the gallery's groundbreaking history
Ralph Rugoff took over as director of the Hayward Gallery in 2006 and has developed a reputation for original exhibitions that attract a broad audience. He has been behind ambitious group shows that explore everything from outsider art to brutalist architecture, and overseen solo exhibitions from some of the biggest names in art including Tracey Emin, Martin Creed, and Ed Ruscha. Here he discusses the ins and outs of his role and goes on to share his top 10 moments from the gallery’s history:
My role as director encompasses everything from communicating the Hayward vision to external partners and the press, overseeing the budget, fundraising, managing personnel, and providing guidance when necessary to our publishing and interpretation teams. And of course, I’m also busy researching and organizing exhibitions, and working with artists and my colleagues on ideas and proposals, exhibitions and outdoor projects. My key responsibility is setting the Hayward’s artistic programme. This is something I do in conversation with several key partners, in particular the Hayward senior curators.
Since it opened in 1968, the Hayward has been a leading UK gallery for presenting significant contemporary art from diverse parts of the world. Thanks in no small part to its adventurous architecture, the Gallery has a particular tradition of staging pioneering exhibitions that can intensify and focus the visitors’ encounters with works of art. Many of these shows have explored key artistic developments that no other UK institution was paying attention to.
Taking our cue from the building’s robust architectural DNA and the democratic aspirations embedded there, I hope we have developed types of exhibitions that are not merely looked at, but are experienced on multiple levels and in unexpected ways. We have also enabled artists to realize highly-ambitious projects that few other institutions here have the necessary spaces or capacities for staging.
The most thrilling challenges in my role are related to working with artists to figure out how best to realise their ideas. Another important challenge is developing better ways to frame the artworks we present by developing truly inspiring educational materials and digital content. London is one of the world’s leading cities for contemporary art, and the tremendous competition here is a constant challenge on many practical levels.
In the future, the Hayward will continue to evolve its exhibition programme around its core values—an appreciation for the unorthodox and the adventurous, for radical excellence and risk-taking, and with presenting art in ways that can help visitors to realize their own roles as contributors and collaborators who may expand and multiply the possible meanings of the art that they encounter here.
1. Bridget Riley: Paintings and Drawings 1951-71, 1971
In 1971, Bridget Riley became the first contemporary painter to have a solo show at the gallery with her exhibition Bridget Riley: Paintings and Drawings 1951-71. She returned to the Hayward for another solo exhibition in 1992, and later curated the 2002 exhibition Paul Klee: The Nature of Creation.
2. Three Circles of Stones, 1972
Artist Richard Long constructed Three Circles of Stones (1972) in the gallery for The New Art (1972). This groundbreaking group exhibition was the first institutional survey exhibition of British conceptual art. Long later took over the entire gallery, including its outdoor sculpture terraces, for his solo show Walking in Circles in 1991.
3. Hayward Annual, 1978
In the summer of 1978, an all-female selection committee consisting of artists Rita Donagh, Tessa Jaray, Liliane Lijn, Kim Lim, and Gillian Wise staged the second in a series of group exhibitions known as the Hayward Annual. The exhibition featured 23 artists, among them 16 women and 7 men.
4. Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, 1978
Earlier the same year, an illustrious committee that included critic and curator David Sylvester and poet and surrealist Roland Penrose, as well as art historians Dawn Ades and Elizabeth Cowling, organized the monumental exhibition Dada and Surrealism Reviewed (1978), which featured over 1,000 objects, among them magazines, books, paintings, and sculpture.
5. The Other Story, 1989
In 1989, curator, writer and critic Rasheed Araeen held the group exhibition The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-war Britain at Hayward Gallery. This seminal exhibition celebrated the contribution of artists from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean to art in post-war Britain, and to modernism.
6. Gravity & Grace, 1993
Artist, curator and critic Jon Thompson staged the influential Gravity & Grace: The Changing Condition of Sculpture at the gallery in 1993. The exhibition featured the work of 20 artists who had never before shown together at such a scale. Among them were Joseph Beuys, Barry Flanagan, Eva Hesse, Jannis Kounellis, and Richard Serra.
7. Anish Kapoor, 1998
In 1998, Anish Kapoor had a solo show at the gallery—his first in a UK public institution. Engaging with the gallery’s unusual architecture, the exhibition featured new works that appeared to grow out of Hayward’s walls and floors.
8. Antony Gormley, 2007
As part of his solo exhibition Blind Light in 2007, artist Antony Gormley installed 31 life-sized figures on the rooftops of buildings along the South Bank of the River Thames, overlooking the Hayward Gallery. This unsettling piece was called Event Horizon.
9. Normally, Proceeding and Unrestricted With Without Title, 2008
In 2008, for an exhibition that coincided with the gallery’s 40th anniversary, Austrian artists collective Gelitin transformed one of the sculpture courts into a boating lake. Their work Normally, Proceeding and Unrestricted With Without Title (2008) was part of the group exhibition Psycho Buildings: Artists Take On Architecture (2008).
10. Light Show, 2013
For Light Show in 2013 the gallery brought together sculptures and installations that used artificial light to transform space and to influence and alter perception. Featuring the work of 23 artists—among them Jenny Holzer, Anthony McCall, and James Turrell—the exhibition explored how we experience and respond to illumination and color, and suggested that what we see, or think we see, is not always how things are.