Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art: a response from 2016

By Greg McGee

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art: a response from 2016

Here's a short thought from 2016 on Middlesbrough's mima (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art).

We LOVE going there. Jim Poyner, our favourite photographer, asked us what we thought and so we didn't hold back.

"As a Middlesbrough man with an art gallery in York, mima has always been a must see on my return home. It's opening in '07 sent ripples throughout the north, and indeed beyond, and it provided a peg upon which the chatterarti could hang conversations: 'at last, some cutting edge culture to reinvent Teesside!', or, 'It's good to see the area recognised after all its industrial hard work', or, less charitably, 'A contemporary art gallery? In Middlesbrough? It'll be petrol bombed within a month!' Middlesbrough has for decades possessed the ability to inculcate fierce responses in its commentators, whether that's in the field of football, its industry providing inspiration for Blade Runner, or even its position on leagues of towns you'd rather not live in, with supporters and detractors alike ready to stand their ground in a fugue of red mist. 

Thrillingly, mima has never just been a symptom of these conversations, but has had the swagger to cause them and extend them, reflecting in its collection and curatorial choices an apologetic ambition to go for duke for duke with any modern art gallery in the world. Anyone who witnessed the succulent colourscapes of Middlesbrough born William Tillyer, or Wendy Ramshaw's 'Rooms of Dreams', or indeed mima's most recent project, 'Localism', a multifaceted, user generated exhibition nominated for a Journal Culture Award, can attest that, yes, mima's success is keener when it has the courage of its convictions.
With that in mind, some of the input from participants in this project, local residents who have some cultural investment in mima, may well dampen the spirits of its hardworking team. Out and out contempt is preferable to the shrugging apathy of some of those asked, who all have valid reasons for their stance, however much one may disagree. The mima staff, helmed by Alistair Hudson, are in a difficult position, and have bravely reached out, especially via 'Localism', to Middlesbrough's residents with a view to making their exhibitions more relevant. 'Localism' pulled it off, but repetition may prove less successful. My advice would be to hang tough. The very structure of mima is unapologetic, it squats with elegant defiance at the heart of Middlesbrough; even its very name is a cheeky tip of the hat to New York's Museum of Modern Art. Whatever it does, it does it with showmanship and sensitivity, with enough mischief to reassure those not used to visiting art galleries, many of them included as participants in this project. 'Localism' made great strides in reaching out to those people, and the ripples continue to spread. It will be fascinating in a year or two's time to see how such an inclusive and user friendly project inspires future visits to future exhibitions."

Greg McGee, co-director of According to McGee gallery, 2016