There is something peculiarly British about the UK's preference for a coach park, rather than a smart new museum, being located along its sea-fronts. This was the mind-set in Hastings, the Sussex coastal town that this weekend saw the opening of a new art space, the Jerwood Gallery.
Located on The Stade, the sea-front strip of Hastings' old town, the Jerwood Gallery forms part of a £9m development and acts as a sister gallery to the Jerwood's London space. Its position - right on the beach among fishing boats, wooden shacks selling the catch of the day and Hastings' famous Net Shops where fishermen dry their nets - has caused the controversy.
This is the largest beach fishing site in Europe, and has oozed the same ramshackle charm for centuries. The new museum, designed to draw tourists and spark a regeneration of the town, has proved unpopular with some locals, especially the fishermen, who have daubed the area in anti-Jerwood graffiti.
The gallery's architects, Hana Loftus and Tom Grieve of HAT Projects, bore this hostility in mind when they designed the space. 'Our biggest challenge was finding the right pitch; making a civic yet contemporary building that would fit into this extraordinary site,' says Loftus. They set about creating an eight-room gallery with a café overlooking the beach, and used concrete, pink terrazzo and glazed black tiles, which have been used in seaside towns since the eighteenth century and reflect beautifully the ethereal coastal light.
The result is a perfectly formed, modest space, that doesn't try too hard. The light, bijoux galleries provide an overview of twentieth and twenty first century British paintings from the likes of Stanley Spencer, L S Lowry and Augustus John, as well as showing works from the Jerwood Painting Prize winners such as Craig Aitchison, Patrick Caulfield and Prunella Clough. The temporary gallery on the ground floor features an inaugural show of work by Rose Wylie, who lives and was trained locally.
Alan Grieve, chairman of the Jerwood Foundation, which privately funded the new £4m gallery explained: 'Our collection exceeds 200 pieces now, and we had run out of space in London. The new location had to have the right feel, have an artistic tradition. Hastings is an ancient Saxon site, with a rich, quirky history and thriving creative community that until now, had not been catered for.'
Grieves admits that 'the Bilbao effect doesn't happen straight away'. But the new gallery establishes Hastings as one of the cultural attractions along the South Coast, among them Turner Contemporary at Margate, the Towner in Eastbourne, the De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill and Pallant House in Chichester.