The event was hosted by the FE McWilliam Gallery & Studio, where its Curator, Dr Riann Coulter, was joined by Ms Aoife Ruane, Director of the Highlanes Gallery, and Ms Anne Stewart, Curator of Fine Art, National Museums Northern Ireland. The discussion reinforced many of the ideas and topics detailed in last week’s workshops at the National Gallery of Ireland and at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). In addition the DECIPHER partners gained some fresh insights into the curatorial processes and workflows associated with creating an exhibition.
Anne Stewart outlined an exhibition on the Grand Tour which centred on a portrait of Irishman James Stewart of Killymoon, painted by Pompeo Batoni. The exhibition introduced the museum audience to the Batoni painting, which was a new acquisition, but it also provided an opportunity to place the painting into the context of the established collection. The layout of the exhibition reflected the theme of a journey (the concept of the Grand Tour).
Riann Coulter and Aoife Ruane talked about an exhibition of works by Nano Reid and Gerard Dillon, curated by Riann. Originally shown in the Highlanes Gallery, the exhibition then travelled to the FE McWilliam Gallery and Studio. As a result this exhibition shows how a set group of artworks might be displayed in different contexts, from one venue to another. The exhibition focussed on how the relationship between the two artists affected their work: this was illustrated in Dillon’s painting in the National GalIery of Ireland’s collection, titled Nano’s Dream Castle. This exhibition also showed how the Highlanes, rooted in its surrounding communities in Drogheda town and the north east region, was able to draw on local knowledge and personal histories in researching and locating artworks by Nano Reid (who was born in Drogheda in 1905). This emphasises the importance of tacit and undocumented knowledge about artworks and artists, which is often unearthed through social interaction.
The group addressed the use of narrative in the layout of exhibitions, adding that, as well as arranging works according to conceptual or thematic concerns, visual concerns were crucial in the placing of works.
The group also addressed the difference between curating exhibitions that feature contemporary art practices as compared to ones featuring historical artworks. Anne Stewart talked about the respective exhibitions of Sean Scully and Willie Doherty, while Aoife Ruane addressed the type of cutting edge contemporary exhibitions shown in the Highlanes Gallery.
Thanks again to Riann Coulter, Aoife Ruane and Anne Stewart for giving such useful input to DECIPHER.