19 Jan Interview: 60 years of the New Art Centre / The Guardian
In a sleepy corner of the Wiltshire countryside, nine miles east of Salisbury, sits a cattle farm. To enter, you take a gravel lane that weaves through fields of glossy brown cows chewing the cud, bred here to be sold across the country. However, approach the grand Regency house that sits at the centre of the estate, and a very different cluster of creatures emerge – a formation of 40 metal warriors, an African-Caribbean riff on the Terracotta Army by artist Zak Ové.
New Art Centre is not your typical art space – animals graze happily around top-tier British art from the last century alongside flashier works from a younger generation. A piece by Richard Long slices a field in half, leading the eye to a shimmering silver totem by Conrad Shawcross. An eerie Antony Gormley figure haunts a woodland clearing; around the corner, playful Phyllida Barlow pompoms hang from the foliage. The art might appear permanent, but it’s all for sale, ready to be whisked off to a wealthy collector’s garden at a moment’s notice.
The park is the culmination of 60 years work by the grand dame of British sculpture, Madeleine Bessborough, who originally set up New Art Centre as a Sloane Street gallery in 1958.
“The art world was very different when we started,” says Bessborough, who at 82 still works in the gallery every day. “There were barely any opportunities for the young to be offered exhibitions, and it was something I wanted to change.” Originally a non-profit supporting recent graduates, today the New Art Centre offers up-and-comers an equally rare opportunity: to show and sell their works in the kind of setting usually reserved for bombastic shows by blue-chip artists at Blenheim Palace or Chatsworth.