Search This Blog

Monday, 16 April 2018

Curating ‘Modern Artists tell the Easter Story’ – the student’s point of view

Brookes is host to the Methodist Modern Art Collection (MMAC), which comprises artworks which tell the Christian story by many of the twentieth-century’s leading British artists. This academic year, the opportunity arose for a small group of Art History students to work with its custodian, Dr Peter Forsaith, and, as a team, to conceive and curate a small exhibition which drew on this wonderful resource.
The Project 18 Team: Phoebe Exon, Kinmy Lo, Lauren Golightly, Sarah Morley and Tatiana Solis (with a Graham Sutherland)
I applied for what we called ‘Project 18’ because I was brought up in the Methodist faith, and already knew about the Methodist art collection before starting my history of art degree at Brookes. I was also taking the second-year module Curatorial Practice, which offers an introduction to the theory and practice of curating, so was keen to apply what I was learning in a real situation. The fact that the chosen group would be given a lot of independence in creating the exhibition was inviting but also rather daunting. I can safely say that these gut reactions (mixed in with a little stress) remained whilst carrying out the project!
The students with Dr Peter Forsaith
Things got off to a positive start. The Project 18 team consisted of three second years (Phoebe Exon, Lauren Golightly, and me) and two third years (Kinmy Lo and Tatiana Sollis). Although it wasnot a credited module, meaning that it did not count towards our degree, we all knew that the experience offered by the Art History department would be very beneficial for us, because we plan to work in the art world after graduation. We started the process by meeting together and discussing our ideas for the proposed exhibition. Next we met with Peter and discussed possible themes, locations for the show, and most importantly of all at this stage, we assessed which paintings were available to us and which weren’t currently marked out to be on loan when our show was scheduled.
Despite other module commitments and the third years completing dissertations, we worked well as team to make key decisions and to bring the project to completion. Our choice of location was framed by a number of factors. We knew the exhibition would take place around Easter 2018, so our time was relatively limited. We decided therefore to have the exhibition at Brookes. This was a way to celebrate the fact that the MMAC is housed here and to give all those who work and study at the university a chance to see some of the work in the collection. We decided that the Glasgow Room in Harcourt Hill campus, which normally acts as a meeting room, would be a good space because it is a large room, and, very helpfully, already has hanging rails installed on the walls.
Getting ready to hang a painting
At the same time as we finalised our location, we looked further into which paintings we wished to display. As the exhibition was scheduled for Easter we decided on having an Easter theme (hence the title, ‘Modern Artists tell The Easter Story‘). Although the collection is devoted to the visual expression of the Christian faith, we wanted the exhibition to appeal to everyone. We hoped that our display would enable visitors to think about what Easter meant to them whilst they contemplated the artworks surrounding them. After chopping and changing the lists of which paintings we wanted to include, we decided to select seven paintings and, through them, tell the main events in the Easter story.
Hanging a painting
We had learnt on the Curatorial Practice course, and Peter reminded us, that curating requires an open mind and adaptability and we saw this first hand during Project 18. We had originally planned to have the paintings in chronological order depicting the Easter story, however we ended up switching paintings around so that the focus was more on what worked well hung next to each other, whilst still allowing the chosen artworks to remain in a relatively chronological sequence. For example, we decided to add an extra painting Nathaniel (asleep under the fig tree)by Mark Cazalet, which completed a set of eight, in order to hang that next to Cazalet’sFool of God (Christ in the Garden)as these two paintings worked more successfully as a pair. I believe that if we had not gone into this project as open minded as we did then we could have had real issues. Thankfully, we worked well as a team and shared the same priorities when completing this project. The show opened just before Easter and ran for three weeks. We were so pleased that it was well-received and appreciated by all who visited.

The experience was incredibly valuable for us all. We learnt that open mindedness, adaptability, communication skills and respecting each other’s point of view are key to achieving goals. Alongside these more general lessons, we took away vital lessons from the world of curating and where our ambitions might fit within it. Many Art History graduates follow a career path in the art or museum world and curating is a highly popular pathway, not to mention highly competitive. Working on Project 18, combined with having helped Peter to take down a MMAC exhibition in Hull a few months before, the very practical side of curating which I experienced made me realise that I prefer the theoretical side of the art world. Therefore a path such as management or research in the art world may be more suitable for me. So I am currently investigating my post-university career with a focus on working in a learning or education department in the gallery and museums sector after gaining more experience as a gallery or museum assistant.
For me, my involvement in Project 18, alongside the Curatorial Practice module, has allowed me to realise my passions, and has helped me to sift out what works best for me from the vast opportunities which are available to history of art graduates. There seems to be a stereotype that the career paths of an art history graduate are quite narrow. This is not the case and I wholeheartedly implore people to look into the opportunities that are out there!

Sarah Morley, second-year undergraduate on the BA(Hons) History of Art degree

Photographs by Andrew Parker, second-year undergraduate on the BA (Hons) History of Art degree

For more about the show see:
& for a recent article about the Curatorial Practice module see:

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed looking at some of the paintings online - do you know if there is any particular reason the collection is held in Oxford?