aspex, Portsmouth’s leading contemporary art gallery is a hidden gem at Gunwharf Quays. It’s a fantastic environment to take time out to discover contemporary visual art, to be inspired, learn to think differently, to try something new or just relax. The gallery specialises in supporting contemporary artists at an early stage in their career and is a showcase for new work being made at a local and global level. Its track record for supporting artists dates back 30 years, with a long list of contemporary visual art’s great and good getting an early break thanks to this Portsmouth institution.
Established in 1981 by artist members of Art Space Portsmouth, aspex was based in a converted chapel on Southsea’s Brougham Road for 25 years. In 2006 the gallery relocated to the Vulcan Building, a formal naval storehouse on the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays. The conversion of the historic site into a gallery won a prestigious RIBA award and made aspex a major destination for Portsmouth residents and visitors alike. The gallery is a significant space for contemporary visual art in the South East region, and provides an attractive setting for a diverse programme.
aspex shows four exhibitions a year in gallery 1, complemented by a fast-changing programme in gallery 2 adjacent to the cafe. aspex and the artists with whom the gallery works seek to push at boundaries to produce new, exciting and innovative art, with a diversity in media, perspectives and ideas. From the beginning the gallery has worked to support emerging artists but this focus does not preclude the presentation of the work of more established artists who have reached a milestone in their development of their practice, or whose work has a particular relevance for local audiences.
aspex also acts as a base from which the gallery reaches out to the wider community, delivering inventive off-site projects that have included wallpapering Portsmouth’s central library, and the addition of a striking mural by Nils Norman in the subway at the entrance to Gunwharf Quays. Last summer aspex helped to temporarily transform the city’s skyline with the addition of Heather & Ivan Morison’s giant dinosaur sculpture, Luna Park on Southsea Common. In the spring of 2011 aspex added to its extraordinary inventory of public art projects with the installation of a new lighting commission by S. Mark Gubb at the Hard Interchange.
Although now separated from the studio group, aspex continues to support the professional and critical development of creative practitioners in the city and beyond through its arc (artists’ resource centre) programme. arc helps artists develop their professional practice and career by providing practical advice and by facilitating critical engagement, self-assessment and a proactive approach through one-to-one surgeries, workshops and events at aspex and a network of partner organisations across the South East region.
A lively Participation & Learning programme uses exhibiting artists’ themes and ideas as its starting point, providing fun and engaging activities and events for all ages, and developing artists and curators of the future. For families and children, the gallery runs artist-led creative workshops every other Saturday, and school holiday workshops. aspex also runs fun workshops for children with autism and Special Educational Needs and their families, with the support of Aiming High for Disabled Children and Portsmouth Autism Support Network. These free sessions are artist-led with the support of an Occupational Therapist, and take place once a month at the gallery. aspex has plenty on offer for adults too, including life drawing classes, talks and the gallery’s popular after hours event series, held on the first Thursday of every month. aspex recently opened a new site at Gunwharf Quays, known as the Lighthouse, which will act as a new base for the gallery’s Learning & Participation programme.
aspex’s shop sells art and contemporary craft and stocks the largest selection of art journals in the city. With an emphasis on sustainable, eco-friendly and recycled products, the shop also stocks items that complement the gallery’s exhibitions. The podium programme showcases exceptional contemporary craft and design pieces from established and emerging makers, and the kiddies’ corner has lots of gorgeous gifts and creative stuff to choose from. aspex also sells a selection of original artworks via its shop on CultureLabel.
aspex’s family friendly café provides the perfect escape from the bustle of the city. Delicious cakes and coffee are served alongside a seasonal menu that always reflects the talents of local producers, from Buckwell’s famous pork pies to the gallery’s own legendary carrot cake. The café is part of the Yellow Kite network of community cafés.
The gallery’s core work is regularly supported by Arts Council England, South East, Portsmouth City Council and is part-financed by the European Union. All profits made through the café, shop, hire, friends and Culture Club are reinvested to support aspex’s creative programme. Special exhibitions, education and other projects are funded by a number of public sources, trusts, foundations and sponsors.