A new 15,000 sq ft contemporary art gallery has arrived in Bournemouth

Bournemouth reborn: A contemporary art gallery hopes to paint the traditional seaside town in a glowing new light

  • A new 15,000 sq ft contemporary art gallery has arrived in Bournemouth
  • GIANT is the brainchild of local artist Stuart Semple and the first show is open 
  • Sara Lawrence says this gallery is not the city’s only new cultural attraction

Seven miles of golden sand and two fine piers have long given Bournemouth classic British beach resort status. Certainly, it’s not known for contemporary artworks.

While other southern coastal towns, such as Margate and Hastings, have become synonymous with modern culture, Bournemouth has been associated with stag and hen dos and rich retirees. Not so much hip as hip replacement.

But thanks to the opening this month of GIANT, a new, independently funded 15,000 sq ft contemporary gallery in the old Debenhams building in the town centre, those perceptions are about to change.

The golden sands of Bournemouth Beach have long attracted visitors from across the UK

GIANT is the brainchild of local artist Stuart Semple, who returned from London seven years ago, determined to reposition his hometown as a creative hub.

‘Bournemouth has everything going for it,’ Semple says. ‘We’ve got amazing beaches, great food and nightlife, a university, an art college and an airport.

‘The one thing we’ve never had is a contemporary gallery, and we have been seen as a bit of a cultural desert.’ Semple is interested in providing diversity.

‘You may not want to listen to an opera,’ he says, ‘but you are desperate to see Jay-Z in concert. That’s how I feel about what we’re doing. We want to contribute to the artistic scene and make it inclusive.’

The inaugural show at GIANT is called Big Medicine and features works by such major international artists as Jake and Dinos Chapman, Gavin Turk and Jim Lambie.

Visual artists the Chapmans, whose work is deliberately shocking, are showing suicide vests cast in bronze, which carry hand-painted art materials rather than explosives.

‘It’s a big deal for us and Bournemouth that they decided to present them here,’ says Semple.

There is a medicine cabinet by Turk, a play on one by Damien Hirst, and Glasgow artist Lambie has created one of his sensational stripy floors, like others in the Victoria & Albert Museum and Tate.

An inflatable sculpture at Big Medicine, the gallery’s inaugural show


For more information about events at GIANT, visit giant.space. 

‘This is essentially a line that creates ripples from the architecture,’ Semple explains. ‘It’s analogous to how this gallery could ripple through Bournemouth.’

Other arts organisations pushing for a place in the new cultural line-up include Pavilion Dance South West, with its world-class programme and vision that dance touches everyone’s lives.

And the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, which won awards and praise from the Government last year, thanks to its online work reaching a new audience in lockdown.

It’s not just art that’s changing the town; Southbourne, with a quieter beach to the east, is becoming a foodie haven.

Terroir Tapas is a trendy sustainable restaurant headed up by an ex-Lime Wood chef. The Larder House is a more traditional restaurant but also aims to keep food miles low.

Let the cultural renaissance commence. 

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