Reading Museum Secures Funding for Oscar Wilde Inspired Artwork

Eleanor Lakelin. Photo by Jeremy Johns
Eleanor Lakelin. Photo by Jeremy Johns

A READING MUSEUM commission, memorialising Reading Gaol’s most famous inmate, Oscar Wilde is the first recipient of the Contemporary Art Society’s Rapid Response Fund following a crowdfunding campaign that has raised total donations to over £200,000.

In 1895 Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in Reading Gaol and the prison has since become a key site within LGBT history. Despite, ‘Save Reading Gaol’, a concerted community campaign to save the prison and turn the buildings into a community arts complex, the prison is believed to have been sold to another, undisclosed bidder by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Whilst Reading Council has expressed its disappointment that its own bid for the purchase of the prison was rejected by the MoJ, it has vowed to work with the successful bidder to ensure its huge historical and cultural value is recognised in any future development.

An avenue of diseased chestnut trees, which were likely the trees that Oscar Wilde gazed out upon while he was incarcerated there, were felled just before the lockdown, after inspections have found they were a risk to public safety. The avenue has since been planted with sweet chestnuts. 

The funds provided by the Contemporary Art Society will enable the commission of artist Eleanor Lakelin to create an artwork made from their timber. The Council was keen to create a lasting artwork from the felled wood. It will take its title “Oh beautiful world!” from the words Wilde was supposed to have uttered on leaving the gaol. The work will go on display at Reading Museum when it reopens to the public.

Eleanor Lakelin, artist, said: “It is poignant that we should be starting a project to commemorate Oscar Wilde’s time in confinement in Reading gaol whilst we are ourselves confined to a much smaller area of our normal existence. Reflecting Wilde’s interests in Classicism and beauty, the piece will evoke the refinement and balance of classical objects; at the same, I will use burred sections of the Horse Chestnut tree, which stood outside the gaol during Wilde’s incarceration, to disrupt the form and suggest the fragile nature of our existence – the short distance between fame and humiliation, health and sickness, beauty and sorrow.”

Karen Rowland, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: “We are delighted with this generous award from the Contemporary Art Society. I am incredibly excited to see the final piece Eleanor creates for Reading – which I am sure will be a beautiful tribute for the chestnut trees we have sadly lost due to disease and a fitting commemoration of Reading’s link to Oscar Wilde.”

Caroline Douglas, Director, Contemporary Art Society, said: “We have acted as quickly as we could to mobilise resources to mitigate some of the effects of the current crisis on artists, and in designing this new fund we have tried to make it work doubly hard, supporting our Member Museums as they prepare to open their doors again, and resume their place within their communities.  The three awards we have made in May are a wonderful first expression of these ambitions, and I look forward to making further awards in the coming months.”

Eva Langret, Artistic Director, Frieze London said: “We are thrilled with the success of the Rapid Response Fund so far – and we want to thank our many supporters, who have helped raise over £200,000 in just two weeks. With the first round of acquisitions being announced so soon after launching the campaign, it is particularly satisfying to see the rapid, cogent and direct impact that this initiative has on U.K. based artists and museums. We look forward to many more acquisitions over the coming months.”


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GoMA in Glasgow and the Victoria Gallery & Museum in Liverpool will also be receiving works by artists and craftspeople with strong links to their regions. Three works by Glasgow-born artist Rabiya Choudhry will form the centrepiece of GoMA’s reopening exhibition Domestic Bliss. A neon work celebrates Glasgow’s Asian shop owners, ‘essential workers’ during the Covid-19 crisis, whilst two paintings address mental health and the internal and external factors that affect it – a conversation even more prevalent within the context of lockdown.

The Victoria Gallery & Museum will receive a room size body of work by Liverpool’s Granby Workshop who, as part of the Assemble co-operative, won the Turner Prize in 2015. Granby Workshop is operated by a group of residents in Liverpool’s Toxteth area, who use local materials – many collected from the disused Victorian terraced houses in the Granby Street neighbourhood – to craft ceramic products.

The CAS Rapid Response Fund, in partnership with Frieze London, is a response to the Covid-19 pandemic to support both artists and museums across the UK. Museums which are members of the Contemporary Art Society are invited to apply to buy art and craft that will support their civic role when they reopen after the lockdown is lifted.

The fund is designed to support as many different artists and local museums as possible, based on the understanding that our museums will play a vital role in our communities as we exit the crisis. The money raised purchases artworks by British-based artists, providing financial support to artists, technicians and art handlers, many of whom work on a freelance basis and have seen their income streams decimated over recent weeks, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The CAS Rapid Response Fund also ensures that when museums reopen, they are able to reach out to their communities through new acquisitions, playing a vital role in civic healing and mental wellbeing.

The fund has already raised £207,000, which will support around 20 acquisitions. £100,000 was raised through the generosity of CAS Patrons and a further £107,000 has been raised so far through the CAS’s first crowdfunding campaign, which closes on 10 June 2020.

People who donate £35 will receive a limited-edition facemask designed by top artists – David Shrigley, Eddie Peake, Linder and Yinka Shonibare. £120 will buy a pack of all four. For those wishing to pledge further financial support, £2,500 will allow donors to become an honorary Patron of the Contemporary Art Society for a year. The crowdfunding campaign is only live for three weeks – from Wednesday 20 May to Wednesday 10 June.

The Contemporary Art Society’s partnership with Frieze London allows the campaign to reach even more art lovers and collectors, both attendees to the art fairs and readers of the magazines.

Applications are being reviewed by the 2020 CAS Acquisitions Advisory Committee, an external panel chaired by Caroline Douglas, Director of the CAS, consisting of leading curators, writers and artists (full committee list in notes to editors). Further purchases will be announced at the beginning of each month will continue as further funds are raised.

For more information please contact:

Marcus Crofton, Communications Manager, Contemporary Art Society
+44 (0)7986 330458

Katie Campbell, Account Director, Brunswick Arts

+44 (0)7392 871272



If you would like to donate to the CAS Rapid Response Fund please visit


The CAS Rapid Response Fund, in partnership with Frieze London, borrows the model of the CAS Collections Fund, which uses donations to directly fund the acquisition of important works of contemporary art for museum collections. Open to buy work from both fine art and craft practitioners, museums apply by making a case for how a specific artwork will support them in engaging with their local communities when they reopen.

Applications are being reviewed on a rolling basis by the 2020 CAS Acquisitions Advisory Committee: Helen Legg, Director, Tate Liverpool; Patricia Bickers, Editor, Art Monthly; Haroon Mirza, Artist; Ben Cooke, Director, LUX; Tanya Harrod, writer and curator; Alison Britton, ceramicist, writer, curator; and Sarah Griffin, Independent curator.


The Contemporary Art Society champions the collecting of outstanding contemporary art and craft in the UK. Since 1910 the charity has donated thousands of works by living artists to museums, from Picasso, Bacon, Hepworth and Moore in their day, through to the influential artists of our times. Sitting at the heart of cultural life in the UK, the Contemporary Art Society brokers philanthropic support for the benefit of museums and their audiences across the entire country. Their work ensures that the story of art continues to be told now and for future generations.


Frieze is the world’s leading platform for modern and contemporary art for scholars, connoisseurs, collectors and the general public alike. Frieze comprises three magazines—frieze, Frieze Masters Magazine and Frieze Week—and four international art fairs—Frieze London, Frieze Masters, Frieze New York and Frieze Los Angeles.

Frieze was founded in 1991 by Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp, with the launch of frieze magazine, the leading international magazine of contemporary art and culture. In 2003, Sharp and Slotover launched Frieze London art fair, which takes place each October in The Regent’s Park, London. In 2012, they launched Frieze New York, which occurs each May in Randall’s Island Park, and Frieze Masters, which coincides with Frieze London in October and is dedicated to art from ancient to modern. In 2019, Frieze launched Frieze Los Angeles, which took place February 14–17, 2019 at Paramount Pictures Studios, Los Angeles.  In 2016, Frieze entered into a strategic partnership with Endeavor a global entertainment, sports and content company.


Frieze London has partnered with the Contemporary Art Society since 2016, when the CAS brought its Collections Fund to the fair to acquire significant contemporary works for its Museum Members across the UK. Past acquisitions have included works by John Akomfrah and Kader Attia for mima, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (2016), Dineo Seshee Bopape for Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne (2017); Kehinde Wiley and Zadie Xa for The Box, Plymouth (2018); and Zanele Muholi for Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery (2019).

Victoria Nickless

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