Art Fund curatorial trainees: January update

It's the final countdown as our two curatorial trainees Henrietta Ward and Philippa Stephenson work towards their summer exhibitions in Newcastle and Manchester.

Philippa has been working with the National Gallery and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums

The festive season has barely left its last sticky cellophane wrapper behind, and we are already well into June in the world of exhibition planning.

Divine Bodies seems just around the corner: a hop, skip and jump away from gracing the Laing Art Gallery’s walls here in Newcastle. Preparation for the exhibition is running along accordingly, with loans lined up, little paper layouts taking shape, and rich, velvety paint colours being discussed.

In preparation for the exhibition, these last few months I have been involved in display of a selection of the Hatton Art Gallery’s finest pre-1800 paintings. Framing Icons showcases key conservation work carried out over the last 12 months on a selection of the gallery’s paintings and prints, all religiously-themed, and many of which have been beautifully reframed. It was refreshing to intensely research and write the labels and wall texts for this exhibition, surrounding myself with books in the university library, like a student once again. It was an even greater thrill to manage my own team of art handlers, honing those important curatorial skills of staring long and hard at potentially wonky paintings, and asking people very nicely to lift very heavy things.

I have enjoyed carrying out a number of public talks and tours related to Framing Icons and my research: listening to the public’s impressions of these paintings, coming from angles I haven’t necessarily considered, seems very important for the making of a good curator. The next few months will be distinctly less social for me, as I hunker down in the library once again to formulate my research for Divine Bodies into wall texts, labels, and an ambitious microsite: expect me to emerge at the first crack of an Easter egg…

Henrietta has been working with the National Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery

The exhibition is due to open in less than four months so it’s a really busy time finalising the layout and getting stuck into writing all the interpretative material. It’s all coming together! Home, Land and Sea Art in the Netherlands 1600-1800 is the exhibition’s title and it will display around 55 of the best Dutch and Flemish paintings in the collection. As Manchester has one of the most important and wide ranging collections of this kind outside London, the exhibition will look at all areas of art in the Netherlands, looking at their history and their artistic innovations and developments, but with more of a Dutch emphasis to reflect the weighting of the collection. The works will be presented and organised by genre such as the everyday life scenes, landscapes and seascapes, still lifes and portraiture. It is also a chance to showcase the generosity of Manchester’s greatest benefactors Mr & Mrs Edgar Assheton Bennett. They bequeathed their entire collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings to the Gallery in 1975.

I also have some exciting contemporary interventions which will complement the paintings really well. I can reveal that I’m including two bronze painted apple cores by Gavin Turk and select pieces from Mat Collishaw’s Last Meal on Death Row series with the still lifes, but displayed with a twist! I also have other interventions, one of which is a really thought provoking film installation to go with the seascapes – all to be unveiled nearer the time. It has been a challenge finding the right contemporary art to go with these Old Master paintings, but one that has been incredibly worthwhile and eye opening.

My exhibition blog is up and running: This is a great way to keep up to date with all the developments particularly my latest research and thoughts on the collection. I’ll be posting lots of installation shots in May too.

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