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HAPPY BIRTHDAY NOTTINGHAM CONTEMPORARY

By NBF News
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Nottingham Contemporary is one year old on Sunday. And it will be a happy birthday. The modern art gallery has beaten its own – frankly ambitious – target of attracting 200,000 visitors by nearly 50%. That's impressive.

It would be a notable achievement under any circumstances; given the unapologetically avant-garde and contemporary programme, it is a surprisingly good result.

OK, they kicked off with a crowd-pleasing David Hockney monograph exhibition, but that only accounted for 80,000 of the eventual 290,000 visits. Thereafter it has been hardcore art all the way.

I applaud the academic approach of the gallery's director, Alex Farquharson, but have to admit that I thought it might be a little off-putting to a non-specialist audience. In February, I reported on Star City: The Future Under Communism, a show about the Soviet space race.

I guessed, based on my experience at Tate, that it might attract between 20,000 or 30,000 people if they were lucky.

Wrong. 80,000 people tipped up to see and walk in the tent-like spacesuit based on the original worn by Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. Once in, they might well have found themselves in a black-box film installation by the Otolith Group, which was an awfully long way from David Hockney's pop paintings. The film mixes images of a group of Indian women who travelled to Russia in the 1970s on a research trip with images of people floating around in space. It won the Otoliths a place on this year's Turner Prize shortlist.

Nottingham Contemporary appears to have quickly established itself in its own community. Even by February, the vast majority of people I spoke to on the streets for vox pops were supportive and proud. NC has repaid their faith by reporting an estimated contribution of nearly £9m to the local economy in its first year.

The gallery is based in the city's historic Lace Market. When sun shines, the green and lace motif that wraps the building shimmers as if hanging from a washing line in a light breeze. The building was designed by the under-rated architects Caruso St John. Many were surprised that Nottingham Contemporary was not shortlisted for this year's Stirling Prize and these two devout modernists must wonder what they have to do to receive the recognition their work deserves.

At least they now know the public likes it.