Monday, April 18, 2011

Northern Lights

DECIPHER’s Irish partners crossed the border to Banbridge, Northern Ireland, on Wednesday 13th April, to talk about the exhibition-making process with three leading gallery and museum professionals.

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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Metsu & The Moderns: DECIPHER Workshops

Two days, two workshops, a lot to think about regarding the development of DECIPHER: on Monday and Tuesday last week, DECIPHER consortium partners met in Dublin and had a unique opportunity to gain insights and to gather information about curatorial practice and museum workflow from the staff of two of Ireland’s leading national cultural institutions – The National Gallery of Ireland and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). Both workshops focussed on a recent exhibition at each hosting venue. In the National Gallery, the focus was the exhibition of 17th-century painter Gabriel Metsu. At IMMA, the focus was the exhibition The Moderns, which presented a selection of the arts in Ireland from 1900 to the 1970s.

On Monday 4th April, in the National Gallery, the first workshop started in the morning with three presentations from Gallery specialists. This was followed by a question and answer session with a group discussion, and after lunch there were breakout sessions. The three breakout groups mirrored the three general areas of Gallery activity represented in the morning presentations:

1. Curation & Narration/ Display & Interface

2. Public Access & Interaction

3. Research/ Repository

The first presentation was by Dr Adriaan Waiboer, who is Curator of Northern European Art at the National Gallery, and curator of the Metsu exhibition in Dublin. During an insightful presentation on the development of the exhibition and display of Metsu’s works, he outlined some of the principles for organising a selection of given artworks. In the Metsu show, a chronological or biographical timeline (early works/ late works) was used in the first and last rooms, whereas the majority of works in the show were organised into thematic groupings. Dr Marie Bourke, Keeper & Head of Education at the National Gallery, addressed designing a public programme for all ages based on Metsu. She outlined the circle of activities that stem from an exhibition, as well as defining the range of user groups that a successful education programme must address. Catherine Sheridan who is Assistant Librarian at the National Gallery, addressed research resources for both the public and art specialists, as well as the on-line presence of the art exhibition. She outlined the variety of research resources available at the Gallery, from books and journals and reviews to multiple web-based resources. Her presentation included a newspaper cutting on file which alludes to how some collection artworks are part of a popular consciousness for reasons that are not related to art. This type of tacit information about artworks is often not referred to in their public display.

During the morning, Raymond Keaveney, Director of the National Gallery of Ireland, also addressed the group, referring to developments in the online presence of the Gallery.

After lunch, the three breakout sessions included many members of the National Gallery staff. The breakout session discussions were based on scenarios provided by DECIPHER’s Open University partners. Three rapporteurs fed back to the reassembled group about their respective breakout discussions.

At IMMA on the following day, Tuesday 5th April, the workshop followed the same format as the day before: three presentations to the assembled group in the morning were followed by smaller breakout sessions in the afternoon. The first presentation was by Brian Cass, Curatorial Coordinator of The Moderns at IMMA. He described how the gallery space at IMMA was used to display artworks and guide the viewer through groupings and themes within the overall exhibition. Brian Cass also talked about how the input of artists informed the process of displaying artworks in a contemporary art gallery. Lisa Moran, Curator: Education & Community, IMMA, described a set of on-line resources for second level students. The resources, prepared by Lisa Moran and Rebecca Devaney, were developed with specific reference to The Moderns exhibition, but the format was designed in such a way that the content could be replaced at a later date to support another exhibition. Johanne Mullan, National Programmer: Collections Department, IMMA, outlined a selection of projects that had been undertaken through IMMA’s National Programme. Specifically she talked about facilitating the selection of a group of paintings, which were originally displayed as part of The Moderns exhibition in Dublin, with the intention of showing them in a different context in Donegal.

In the afternoon breakout sessions, the workshop was joined by other members of IMMA staff, including Christina Kennedy, Senior Curator and Head of Collections, and Helen O’Donoghue, Senior Curator and Head of Education & Community Programmes.

The end of the workshops on Tuesday evening coincided with the launch of the new Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibition at IMMA.

The two days of workshops have given partners in the DECIPHER consortium plenty of food for thought, from the layers of narrative in the presentation of artworks, through to defining user groups and their research and learning requirements.