The Box, Plymouth Reopens With New Displays and Exhibitions

The largest arts and heritage museum to open in the UK in 2020, The Box in Plymouth, plans to reopen to the public on Tuesday 18th May 2021, following a six-month closure due to COVID-19. The Box first opened its doors to visitors at its delayed public launch on 29th September 2020. It has so far welcomed more than 30,000 visitors, despite being open for a total of just nine weeks.

Easily the most impressive museum and capital project I’ve seen in ten years at the Arts Council. It’s a real triumph for cultural placemaking, and I hope it goes on to reap award after award. Arts Council England

What a treat and what a place. The Box oozes quality at every turn. An incredible asset to our outstanding city – it’s world class. @darren_hartley on Twitter

The Box minerals

What an awesome addition to Plymouth’s heritage, arts & cultural offering. This huge project delivers in spades and is a real interactive experience. The whole family were wowed by each and every exhibition. I have travelled the world and in my view The Box is a world beater. TP Haycock on Tripadvisor

The first impression for the visitor is a vivid reminder of Plymouth’s naval history, with 14 beautifully restored ship figureheads soaring over the entrance hall. The Guardian

The Box’s 2021 reopening programme includes Wampum: Stories From The Shells Of Native America, a new exhibition centring on a wampum belt created for The Box by 100 Wampanoag craftspeople of Massachusetts. The new belt will be displayed alongside seven historic wampum belts on loan from the British Museum and Saffron Walden Museum. Wampum belts use shells to tell stories of communities and culture. The exhibition will explore the history, art and culture of the Native Americans who met the passengers of the Mayflower and ensured their survival. The exhibition will run until July 11th.

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The Box legend

The Box’s flagship exhibition Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy returns with a large collection of new artefacts from across the globe including the Second Peirce Patent from Pilgrim Hall Museum. The oldest existing state document of New England and it gave the Mayflower passengers English permission to settle in America. Signed in 1621, this document will be coming to Plymouth for the first time in 400 years. The exhibition has been extended until January 2022.

Outside of London, The Box holds the UK’s single largest collection of paintings by the Plymouth-born 18th-century artist Sir Joshua Reynolds. New for 2021, and opening in July, The Box will be displaying the Port Elliot Collection, a collection of rarely seen paintings by the leading portrait painters of the 18th Century including Plymouth-born Sir Joshua Reynolds, George Romney and Thomas Lawrence. The works represent an unusually good group of family portraits, commissioned by the St German family for the Port Elliot Estate from 1740 – 1780.

The Box Kitchen & Bar is run by Executive Chef Nat Tallents, who will be a contestant on the Great British Menu 2021. The new series starts on BBC Two on Wednesday 24 March and will run for two months. Prior to launching The Box Kitchen & Bar in Plymouth, Nat was a semi-finalist in National Chef of the Year in 2019 and 2021. Visitors can enjoy Nat’s locally inspired menu when the museum reopens on 18th May. New for 2021 is The Little Box, a beautiful new glass and aluminium café situated between the trees on Tavistock Place, also overseen by Nat Tallents and serving takeaway coffees and snacks.

The Box Anthony Gormley

Two further historic buildings and visitor attractions are part of The Box family. These are Plymouth’s famous striped red and white lighthouse Smeaton’s Tower and Elizabethan House – one of the few remaining buildings from this era in Plymouth.

An exceptional example of an Elizabethan boarding house, the Grade II Listed Elizabethan House has been undergoing a six-year restoration and has not been open to the public since 2015. Visitors will be taken on an immersive, multi-sensory journey through Plymouth’s history by the house and the people who lived there between 1599 and 1926 when the house was saved for the nation. Elizabethan House’s planned public opening is in July 2021, two months after The Box reopens. Smeaton’s Tower Lighthouse will open to visitors once social distancing measures are lifted by the UK Government. Both venues are ticketed with further details on the website.

Contemporary art is at the heart of The Box’s cultural offering and new for 2021 will be a major international contemporary art exhibition opening on September 25th. Details will be revealed in June, four months ahead of its opening date. There will be nothing like it happening anywhere in the UK in 2021 and visitors are expected to travel from across the country to catch this blockbuster show. This new September contemporary art exhibition will replace Making It and will be spread out across St Luke’s Church and several other spaces inside The Box.

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The Box natural

Making It, The Box’s launch contemporary art exhibition, will reopen on Tuesday 18th May and run until the end of August. Making It explores the relationship between Plymouth’s history of making and the craftmanship of contemporary art. The exhibition features three artworks that have been permanently acquired for The Box including Antony Gormley’s LOOK II sculpture on Plymouth Hoe, Leonor Antunes’ multi-coloured fused glass window inside St Luke’s Church and Eva Grubinger’s Fender – a huge ship’s fender that sits at the entrance to the museum.

Making It also features two major installations. Sequences, Inversions and Permutations by Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes uses ancient glass making and rope making techniques, similar to those practiced in Plymouth for hundreds of years, to create a colourful and immersive art installation featuring rope entwined with coloured glass hanging from the ceiling of St Luke’s Church.

Alexandre da Cunha’s monumental sculpture Figurehead II is six metres tall and uses four stacked concrete drainage rings. The concrete material of the structure and its skyscraper stature is a direct reference to both the post-war architecture of Plymouth and the cities reconstruction and the similarities to the architecture of da Cunha’s birth city Rio de Janeiro, where concrete is a key component.

The Box Cadmus
Cadmus hanging from the ceiling of The Box – Photo credit: Wayne Perry

As well as all of the above, The Box will re-open with its full launch programme of nine permanent exhibitions, showcasing Plymouth’s rich heritage and underlining The Box’s standing as a museum, gallery and archive of national importance.

They include:

THE FIGUREHEADS: A magnificent display of 14 monumental ships’ figureheads
100 JOURNEYS: Great explorers and their discoveries, from Drake to Scott and beyond
MAMMOTH: Natural history collections including 1000 pickled marine creatures & a mammoth
OUR ART: From Reynolds to Lenkiewicz, a showcase of Plymouth’s best loved native artists
PORT OF PLYMOUTH: A celebration of Plymouth’s naval and maritime heritage
COTTONIAN COLLECTION: Illuminated manuscripts, Old Master drawings and fine art
MEDIA LAB: An interactive room featuring the UK’s largest regional film and television archive
PHOTO ALBUM: A display of memories and photographs from Plymouth’s past
ACTIVE ARCHIVES: Public access to The Box’s extensive archive of fascinating documents

Safe social distancing measures will be in place at all of The Box’s buildings, with visitors being asked to book tickets in advance until Government advice changes. All exhibitions are free of charge to visit except for Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy which is £5 (free to Plymouth residents and under 18s). Tickets will be available from The Box website: from mid April.

The Box sign

The Box is a significant part of Plymouth’s Resurgam programme, as one of the transformational projects that will symbolise recovery and set the direction for positive change in the local economy and life in the city as it emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic. Plymouth City Council has already distributed over £42million to support over 3500 city businesses since the start of the pandemic.

Tudor Evans OBE, Leader of Plymouth City Council, said: “This is such an exciting moment for the city and it’s fantastic to finally be able to announce these dates. We’ve already welcomed more than 30,000 visitors in the short time we’ve been able to open, and the feedback has been amazing. I hope everyone is as proud and excited as I am and can’t wait for the doors to reopen. In our post-lockdown world, The Box is a place where people can reconnect with each other, as well as Plymouth’s history and its bright future.”

Paul Brookes, Interim CEO of The Box said: “We’re thrilled that we’ve been able to move the dates of our exhibition programme without making any fundamental changes to our vision and with a reduced visitor capacity on site for at least the first few weeks, visitors can enjoy an amazing, almost private-view level experience.”

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