Caroline Douglas. Image: Joe Plommer

Q&A with Caroline Douglas

Simon Stephens, 09.03.2018
CAS director on the Cerith Wyn Evans artwork commissioned for National Museum Wales
The Contemporary Art Society (CAS) has commissioned a neon work by artist Cerith Wyn Evans for Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales).

The work was unveiled on 8 March at Genedlaethol Caerdydd (National Museum Cardiff). Wyn Evans was born in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire and this is his first work in a public collection in Wales.

The commission is part of Great Works, a CAS scheme to acquire artworks for UK museums and galleries by British artists who have established international reputations over the past 20 years. The initiative is supported by the Sfumato Foundation and the next deadline for expressions of interest is 20 April. Museums Journal spoke to Caroline Douglas, the director of CAS, about the commission.

Why did CAS create the Great Works scheme?

Great Works came about through a sense of frustration that some of the greatest artists we have produced in the last 20 years are all but invisible in our public collections. They might have towering reputations across the world, but be unknown in the city they grew up in. If we believe in our museums as vital components of local communities, then they have to be part of the current conversation around art.

Great Works was created to try to find a way to get some of these artists' works in to our museums. The CAS is known for being an early supporter of artists who have gone on to make huge reputations – Francis Bacon, Bridget Riley, Peter Doig, for example. But sometimes even we missed the boat – this is an attempt to put that right.

How did this particular commission come about?

Great Works is a competitive scheme and we made a call out to our 70 museum members two years ago. The application from National Museum Wales presented a cast-iron case for the acquisition of work by Wyn Evans - it was self-evident that it should get not just a work, but a major work. Right from the start, Wyn Evans wanted the museum to have something special.

How did Cerith Wyn Evans approach the project?

Wyn Evans responded to the invitation with huge enthusiasm. His affection for the museum goes back to keenly remembered childhood experiences of visiting it. Though he has not lived in Wales for many years, he is without doubt a Welshman in every fibre of his being – the honour of being represented in his national museum was not lost on him.

We were fortunate enough to approach him at a particularly productive moment in his career, and the work for National Museum Wales is part of a highly recognisable body of work that includes his Tate Britain commission last year.

How is it displayed at the national museum?

Wyn Evans has made the work with particular reference to the gallery spaces at National Museum Cardiff. He has located the four neon forms below a distinctive pyramid-shaped roof, creating a dialogue with the space's modernist architecture. Radiant fold (…the Illuminating Gas) can be displayed in other locations but its formal resonance with the particulars of this gallery empowers the work with additional layers of associational meaning.