Ayton Basement – opens in Newcastle Upon Tyne,
'Ayton Basement offers an alternative space to artists who may find their work not readily suited to the standard gallery situation. It is available to artists working in film, video, performance and related areas. Proposals and further information should be sent to the above address...'
Thus announced the poster signalling the imminent launch of the artist-run gallery space Ayton Basement on 1st December 1976. By the simple act of opening Ayton Basement, the five artists responsible had both a venue and, importantly, a studio in which to try out ideas. The gallery was sited in a unique space, consisting of two vaulted rooms, narrowing towards the end, in the basement of Baxter's Warehouse, Pandon, on the Quayside in Newcastle Upon Tyne. The work presented at Ayton Basement was predominantly temporal. It was not for sale, and entrance was free. The only record might be a series of photographs, a video or sound tape – or the experience of those present.
Events, screenings, presentations and performances typically took place at 8.00pm on a Saturday night: or artists might present work or create installations for one day or several days. The open curatorial policy meant that artists selected came from those whom the artist-led gallery committee knew, had contact with, were attached to other venues (in particular 2B Butler's Wharf which had opened the previous year in London), or, as word spread, chose to contact the gallery directly. Selection to present work at Ayton Basement was not so much a critical decision as an expression of interest in a fellow artist's work. It was about seeing and experiencing rather than selecting.
The founding members of Ayton Basement were Keith Frake, Nigel Frost, David Killen, Peter Todd and Margaret Warwick. All but Margaret, who had studied
Fine Arts at Sunderland Polytechnic, were in the same year studying Fine Art at Newcastle Upon Tyne Polytechnic (Keith, Margaret, Nigel and Peter had all
shown earlier in 1976 in One Artist One Day at the gallery Robert Self had opened at 17 Queens Lane, Newcastle). The members paid the rent for Ayton
Basement, financed posters, and often helped to put up visiting artists. The Arts Council of Great Britain would come to help with some funding for the building
and Northern Arts with some running costs.
1976 also saw the launch of the periodical Art Monthly whose free listings help make Ayton Basement known quickly. While Ayton Basement the space closed in spring 1978, artist collective 'Basement Group' would however continue with Nigel, David and Peter, using Spectro Arts Centre in Bell's Court as a base. Neither project could have happened as quickly as they did without the support, and advice of the Northern Arts Visual Arts Officer at the time, Peter Davies. He was quick to take an interest in the work and later advised on the hand over to the 'new' Basement Group and later with the evolution into Projects UK, and then Locus+ which continues today in Newcastle.
Artists presenting work at Ayton Basement in addition to the founding artists included Eric Bainbridge, Paul Burwell, Nicolas Collins, David Critchley, Keith and Marie, Stuart Marshall (then teaching at Newcastle Upon Tyne Polytechnic), Shirley Cameron and Roland Miller, Jenny Okun, Stephen Partridge, and Alison Winckle.
This piece is based on the article 'Creating Ayton Basement-Newcastle Upon Tyne, 1976' by Peter Todd in This Will Not Happen Without You, From the Collective Archive of The Basement Group, Projects UK and Locus +
1977-2007. (ed) Richard Grayson, The University of Sunderland Press 2007.
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