No re-opening for Harland Miller’s Pelican dust covers at York Art Gallery. End of story

Not coming back: Harland Miller’s York, So Good They Named It Once exhibition, featuring his mock Penguin dust jackets, is now a closed book. The end.

ALAS, here is not-so-good news on Harland Miller’s Coronavirus-stymied exhibition, York, So Good They Named It Once, at York Art Gallery.

Government pandemic strictures meant the show ground to a halt little over a month into its run from February 14 to May 31, and now confirmation has come that there will be no second life in Miller’s home city for the tragi-comic Pop artist’s biggest-ever solo exhibition, once the gallery re-opens.

Tentative exploratory discussions had been held with exhibition partners White Cube, his London agents. However, today York Art Gallery announced: “Unfortunately, because of the complexities of arranging an exhibition of this kind, it has not been possible to extend the run of the show. 

“The team at York Art Gallery are working hard behind the scenes to bring you fantastic, thought-provoking and inspiring art when we reopen in the coming months. More details of these exhibitions and events will be published on our website and social media very soon.”

Today should have marked the opening of Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years in the Exhibition Square gallery’s Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA): a show of the earliest works and “lost pots” by the Turner Prize-winning, transvestite Essex artist, potter, writer and broadcaster, latterly the host of Channel 4’s “boredom-busting” lockdown art-making series, Grayson’s Art Club.

Cocktail Party 1989, copyright Grayson Perry/Victoria Miro, from the Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years exhibition, whose opening at CoCA, York Art Gallery, was in the diary for June 12 2020

Talks are “on-going” with York Museums Trust’s exhibition partners over what may happen to Perry’s show, not least because The Pre-Therapy Years is scheduled to move on to other venues.

Whenever it hopefully does still run in York, Perry’s show assembles lost creations for gallery display for the first time, not least 70 ceramics crowd-sourced after a national public appeal: a cause for celebration for the Royal Academician Perry.

“This show has been such a joy to put together, I am really looking forward to seeing these early works again, many of which I have not seen since the Eighties,” he says. “It is as near as I will ever get to meeting myself as a young man; an angrier, priapic me with huge energy but a much smaller wardrobe.”

Watch this space for news of the fate of Perry’s pots and indeed the delayed progress of the Richard III portrait from the National Portrait Gallery to the Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens.

Harland Miller’s York, So Good They Named It Once was four years in the talking and curating, bringing together his best-known series, the Penguin Book Covers and the Pelican Bad Weather Paintings, complemented by his Letter Paintings and new works.

Harland Miller’s Who Cares Wins (2020): Raised £1.25 million for Covid-19 frontline carers from sales of 250 prints. Copyright: Hatrland Miller/White Cube

At the heart of a show full of deadpan humour and one-liners were works referring directly to the 56-year-old artist’s relationship with York, the city where he was born and grew up before moving to London, as well as making wider reference to the culture and geography of Yorkshire as a whole.

“If you’re wondering why I’m wearing dark glasses inside in February,” he said at the launch, “It’s because these works are so bright!”

Alas, York Art Gallery went dark, shut down as Coronavirus took hold. In April, Miller revealed he was “nursing mercifully mild symptoms of Covid-19”, coinciding with White Cube selling all 250 editions of his print, Who Cares Wins (2020), created in the familiar style of his mock Penguin dust covers, for £5,000 each, raising £1.25 million in under 24 hours for carers working on the pandemic frontline.

Sale proceeds have been donated to the National Emergencies Trust in Britain, the New York Community Trust and HandsOn Hong Kong. Part of the UK funds have gone to the York Teaching Hospital Charity to support NHS staff in hospitals across Yorkshire – a positive ending to this particular Miller’s tale.