Contemporary Art

RAMM continues to collect new works of art and craft. Sometimes they are purchases (with grant support) to complement RAMM’s wider collection or building. Sometimes they are a result of working with living artists as part of the Contemporary Art Programme. The programme provides opportunities for internationally-renowned artists to create new work inspired by RAMM’s rich collections. While RAMM does not usually commission to collect, a few specially commissioned works are part of the permanent Contemporary Art collection.

Works are found across the collection areas and include paintings, textiles, sculptures, photographs, photobooks and prints. RAMM is not yet able to collect born digital. Sculpture has been a particular focus for collecting including works by Steffen Dam, Polly Morgan, Geoffrey Preston and Michael Shaw. The World Cultures collection includes artwork commissioned to celebrate the museum’s international links, such as by Rosanna Raymond and Suzuki Mutsumi. Many of these works are available online.

In 2011 RAMM reopened after a four year redevelopment. Commissioned works by Maria LalicNicky Hirst  and Michelle McKinney were part of this project. They responded to RAMM’s collections, building and the local area producing new works for the permanent collections.

In 2017 RAMM commissioned Danish glass artist Steffen Dam to create a work specifically for the Sladen’s Study gallery. It is the first bespoke commission by Dam in the world that takes inspiration by museum specimens as opposed to historic illustrations. The video below shows him creating the work.

Colour photograph of a row of 18 glass cyclinders that resemble the glass jars museum specimens are sometimes stored in. inside each one is a blown glass form that looks like a sea creature.
Specimens from an Imaginary Voyage. Steffen Dam, 2017. The commission was made possible with support from the Art Fund, the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Friends of RAMM.

Contemporary photography is currently an area of active collecting. RAMM seeks to develop its photographic holdings by acquiring high quality works by significant artists in line with its Collections Development Policy. Some recent acquisitions:

In 2019 RAMM invited Joy Gregory to create a new artwork in response to the themes and ideas explored in the exhibition In Plain Sight – Transatlantic slavery and Devon. During 2020 and 2021, Gregory travelled around Devon photographing houses and sites with links to the transatlantic slave trade. The embroidered images of these houses, coupled with text that links previous owners to ‘the trade’, are shown interspersed with sugar nippers and shakers from RAMM’s collections

Colour photograph of the In Plain Sight Exhibition at RAMM. Joy Gregory's textile and video are on the left hand side.
The Sweetest Thing, 2021-22. Photographs, video and embroidered textile (cyanotype, metal and rayon thread on cotton). Presented by the Contemporary Art Society with support from Arts Council England and the Friends of RAMM in 2022
Colour photograph of a wall mounted textile by artist Joy Gregory. The blue background represents the sea. Embroideries of houses, people and objects associated with the trade of enslaved people have been made on top.

“How black people are treated now stems from the history explored in this exhibition. It is a deeply troubling and uncomfortable history. This new work talks to the trade of unrefined sugar and refined sugar, by presenting it in a way that people take responsibility and understand the relationship between themselves and history. I’m interested in the stark contrast of the lives lived in the grand houses in Devon – all daintiness, pretty dresses and sitting down to tea – compared to the lives of the enslaved or the factory workers.

I see my job as an artist to create curiosity and bring histories together. I am making things of beauty to talk about ugliness.”

Born in Oxfordshire to Jamaican parents, Gregory began her career by making photographic self-portraits in response to the lack of cultural representation of black female beauty. Now, after nearly 40 years making, teaching and exhibiting, both in the UK and internationally, Gregory is well-known for investigating photography’s history and materiality in relation to race, class and language. The Sweetest Thing includes Gregory’s first textile work. It refers directly to the ‘Combesatchfield’ embroidery.

Read more about the work in the online exhibition or watch Joy’s film below.

Joy Gregory talks about her research for The Sweetest Thing in a new short film by Martin Hampton, filmed on location in Topsham, RAMM’s stores and her London studio. Commissioned by RAMM.