Nick Hackworth

B.Open Baltic, Gateshead

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

Opening at last after many delays, Baltic is the north of England’s answer to Tate Modern: a £46 million conversion of the Baltic Flour Mills. The red and yellow brick 1950s grain warehouse, that until recently sat disused on the Gateshead bank of the River Tyne in Newcastle, now takes pride of place amid cranes and building sites which signal, it is hoped, economic regeneration. Inside, 3,000 square metres of floor space are divided into five large galleries on five floors.

Until October, these pristine spaces play host to the Baltic’s dismally named opening show, B.Open. In a dull attempt to build brand recognition, the Baltic’s marketers have prefixed all their titles and slogans with the letter B. Adverts for the gallery proclaim “B.there”, while the bread rolls in my media pack had “” stamped on them, which depressed me so much that I had to eat them.

Five internationally-recognised artists have each been given a gallery to fill. Unsurprisingly, they have responded with massive works. Belgian artist Carsten Höller presents two enormous light sculptures that attempt to play with your perception.

Jane and Louise Wilson, the Newcastle- born Turner Prize nominees, fill an entire gallery with Dreamtime, a video shot in Baikonur, Kazakstan, once the Russian equivalent of Cape Canaveral. Shots of astronauts and rocket launches are interwoven with melancholy images of empty buildings, a meditation on the differing scales of everyday human life and humanity’s grand ambitions.

Meanwhile, displaying total disdain for human scale, Julian Opie “fills” his gallery with two wall drawings and one floor drawing. From opposite walls, described in thick black lines, highly simplified male and female human forms stare at each other. In the floor picture they appear to be copulating. Had sunlight not filled the room when I visited it, Opie’s deliberate vacuity might have seemed less excusable.

A highlight of sorts is provided by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa: nine pairs of huge gongs hang opposite each other to create an aisle. This spectacular installation wouldn’t look out of place in the home of a James Bond villain, but — like the rest of the show — it is achingly light and quickly forgotten.

Last and least comes the American Chris Burden, legendary for a series of extreme performances he did in the Seventies, including having himself shot in the arm.

Now, inexplicably, he has taken to producing model bridges made from vast quantities of Meccano components. Tyne Bridge, the pièce de résistance, is a scale model of the real thing that is visible through the building’s glass frontage. Utterly without intellectual, aesthetic or emotional qualities, its only redeeming factor is that it was so large that the Baltic, at enormous and hilarious expense, had to knock down a wall to install it.

Overall, it’s a B-minus for the Baltic.

Until October. Tel: 0191 478 1810.