Sat | Jan 16, 2021

National Gallery of Jamaica at 40 (Part 1)

Published:Sunday | August 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Photo of the handover function of the Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection to the National Gallery in 1999. From left: The Hon Aaron Matalon, OJ, the Most Hon P.J. Patterson, then prime minister of Jamaica, and Mrs Marjorie Matalon. - Contributed
John Dunkley, 'Banana Plantation' (1945). - Contributed
Barrington Watson, 'Mother and Child' (1958). - Contributed

The National Gallery of Jamaica is the oldest and largest public art museum in the English-speaking Caribbean. It originally opened at the historic Devon House on November 14, 1974 and will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Devon House was a beautiful and popular location, but the National Gallery quickly outgrew the premises, because of its expanding collections and exhibition programme. The gallery thus moved to its present, much larger and modern premises on the Kingston waterfront in 1982, and though there have been plans for a new National Gallery building, the present location has become the de facto long-term home.

"Much has happened since the gallery first opened and the 40th anniversary provides us with an opportunity to remember and celebrate, to reflect on what has been achieved, and what is left to be done; and in doing all of this, to plot the most productive future trajectories," noted Dr Veerle Poupeye, executive director.

"We are about to start a programme to develop our present building to current museum standards, and recently, we added an extension in Montego Bay - National Gallery West, which opened on July 11 at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre at Sam Sharpe Square," Poupeye announced.

The National Gallery's early exhibitions focused mainly on mapping out the story of Jamaican art. This was done in the first major survey of Jamaican art, Five Centuries of Art in Jamaica (1976), and the even more influential Jamaican Art 1922-1982 exhibition, which gave viewers a more definitive survey of Jamaican art history. The exhibition was organised with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and toured the United States, Canada and Haiti from 1983 to 1985.

The process of articulating the stories of Jamaican art continues today, for instance, with the organisation of retrospective exhibitions to honour major artists, such as Barrington Watson in 2012. Dr Poupeye, however, has indicated that the curatorial emphasis has shifted to include exhibitions that provide exposure to young and emerging artists, such as the Young Talent exhibition series, the most recent of which was Young Talent V (2010) and last year's New Roots exhibition.

Initially focused on the traditional 'fine arts' - painting
and sculpture - the gallery has also widened its interests to include a
variety of other media and art forms, including: installation art,
video, performance, graphic design, popular visual culture, and most
recently, street art in the Anything with Nothing: Art from the Streets
of Urban Jamaica exhibition.

This widening scope has
also been evident in the development of the National Gallery's
collections, which started with 200 paintings and 30 sculptures that
were transferred from the Institute of Jamaica Collection. Today, the
collection comprises just over 2,000 works of art in a wide variety of
media and genres. Most of it is arguably Jamaican, in the sense that it
is made by artists who have been active in Jamaica or who have lived
elsewhere, but are of immediate Jamaican descent, and a significant part
of it addresses themes that are directly relevant to Jamaican history
and culture.

Over the years, the National Gallery has
depended heavily on donations to develop its collections, and these have
come from artists, collectors and corporations. Some of the most
significant donations include: the A.D. Scott Collection, the Edna
Manley Memorial Collection (to which several donors contributed), the
Aaron and Marjorie Matalon Collection, and most recently, the Guy
McIntosh Donation.

The National Gallery of Jamaica is a
division of the Institute of Jamaica and falls under the Ministry of
Youth and

  • The National Gallery of Jamaica is located at 12 Ocean Boulevard,
    Block C, Kingston Mall - entrance on Orange Street. Parking is available
    at the adjoining UDC parking lot.
  • Gallery hours are:
    Tuesdays-Thursdays: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Fridays: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,
    Saturdays: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and every last Sunday of the month: 11 a.m.
    to 4 p.m.
  • Closed on Sundays, Mondays and Public Holidays.
  • Admission:
    adults $400, teachers accompanying students and senior citizens $200,
    schoolchildren and students with ID enter free.
  • Guided tours: $3,000 (general) and schools $2,000 (schools).
  • Free admission and tours on last Sundays.