Art Curation: Lip Gloss, Suffragettes and Cowboys

In the second of a series of blogs on how gallery shows are put together, I spoke to the artist Andrew Curtis, who curated our current group show

In the second of a series of blogs on how gallery shows are put together, I spoke to the artist Andrew Curtis, who curated our current group show Your Garden is Looking a Mess Could You Please Tidy it up.

There are twenty artists in the show, how did you approach them?

Some of the artists I was able to ask directly through links developed during my education and subsequent artistic practice, others I had to email, as I was only familiar with their work.

How much interaction was there with the artists?

Conversations developed from the initial contact, some by email others through studio visits. Three of the works existed before the show, but most were realised for it.

In a broad sense the show is about 'print'.

The show is an exploration of the shifting role/meaning/potential of printed matter in a visual environment, increasingly supported by digital/virtual tools/mediums.

This is an idea that I engage with in my practice as a visual artist. For my first curatorial exhibition I wanted to use the work of other artists to broaden my approach to the subject, discover new ideas and hopefully undo any habit/reliance I may unwittingly be developing.

Sarah Hardacre, Jodie Knew it and Remained Professional

Why the Marlboro design?

When I proposed this idea to the artists, I discussed the current predicament facing the tobacco industry. Its commercial success throughout the 20th century was intrinsically linked to various forms of the printed image (package design, magazine advertisement, racing car decal etc).

These objects had an aspirational affect on peoples desire to display their identity and I was interested in whether an industry once fueled by the image may survive if deprived of it [as in Australia, where just last week cigarettes were stripped of branding].

I used the example of Marlboro flip-top cigarette box, which symbolises a rich and contradictory marketing history, involving lip-gloss, suffragettes and cowboys.

Yet some of the artists haven't used the Marlboro concept.

I hoped my ideas for the exhibition would develop through the process of putting it together and not simply refer back to the point at which I decided on a theme. I intentionally chose artists whose work would contradict both my idea and the other contributors.

I also made decisions to show some literal interpretations and other that were more abstract. I was interested in both the printed matter itself and the environment it and the user exist in, for example the suburban landscape where so many tobacco fueled desires are played out. I wanted some works to sit between ideas and represent this period of hybrid communication.

This is your first show as a curator - what are the similarities between curating and creating artwork?

For me the artworks I make are attempts to physically realise the ideas in my head, the results defined by interruptions caused by processes I use and the limits of my ability.

Curating a group exhibition is similarly defined by interruptions in logistical processes, but due to the combined and inspiring artistic ability of those involved produces a composite result that far exceeds something I could produce on my own. Completing this experience has given me an understanding of the weight of responsibility the curator takes on.

Dick Jewell, 300 American Tobacconists M-Z (Detail)

As an artist what type of curator works best for you?

I have experience of positively invasive curators and invisible curation, and my work seems to suit both methods. I prefer to know as much as I can about why someone wants to present my ideas so I prefer the first.

What would you do differently next time?

Not because of any negative feelings I have for this show, but for the thrill of discovery, I would only work with artists whose practice I had never encountered before.

Your Garden is Looking a Mess Could You Please Tidy it up is on until 7 January see for details


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