New Collecting Awards: Bringing LGBT art to Liverpool

Earlier this year Charlotte Keenan won a New Collecting Award. Here she writes about the progress of her winning project – to strengthen Walker Art Gallery's collection of LGBT art.

I applied for a New Collecting Award because I wanted the chance to make real changes to the Walker Art Gallery’s collection and develop my research to date into a professional specialism.

We’ve been working to increase the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) artists and themes at the Walker for several years now. Recent examples include our exhibition, The Gang: Photographs by Catherine Opie, which displayed the American photographer’s portraits of her friends in the LGBT community, and our 2013-14 exhibition David Hockney: Early Reflections explored the influence of the artist’s sexuality on his early works.

These exhibitions were temporary, however, and our permanent collection displays and interpretation at the Walker remain unchanged. They don’t acknowledge or reflect LGBT history, identities or themes, and that shouldn’t be the case in 2015.

Our Esmée Fairbairn-funded project, Pride and Prejudice, will allow us to complete new research on the collection to uncover previously hidden LGBT stories, but we know there are significant gaps in the collection that will prevent us from introducing a more rounded and permanent LGBT voice to the gallery and its displays. That’s why I applied for a New Collecting Award.

Over the course of the project I will be acquiring historic and contemporary art works that will help the Walker tell a more inclusive art history. That might mean acquiring work by artists who were perhaps historically overlooked because of their sexuality, as well as work by living artists responding to contemporary LGBT culture.

It’s a huge topic and I am only just beginning my research. The Art Fund has appointed a mentor to work with me over the course of the project – Ben Harman, director of Stills Centre for Photography. We met in Edinburgh last week to talk about my plans. It was incredibly stimulating to discuss the project with someone new and to get a different and external perspective on my ideas. Ben also suggested several brilliant artists for me to consider and I’m now busy following them up.

I had time to see the Edinburgh Art Festival while I was there, which was a great opportunity to discover some new artists. The New Collecting Award includes a research grant to help cover research and travel costs for events like the festival. Research is vital to the success of projects like this one; in this challenging financial climate, it’s an incredibly important and valuable element of the funding.

I’ve already started talking to several contemporary artists and I’m planning some studio visits to see their work and talk about their practice soon. I don’t want to give too much away at this stage but I am really excited by the conversations we’ve been having. I also have some research days scheduled later this month to do some work on potential historic acquisitions. There’s certainly plenty to keep me busy!

The New Collecting Awards enable promising curators to pursue new avenues of collecting, while building skills. We are now accepting applications for the second round of funding. The deadline is 4 September 2015.

Read about the other New Collecting Awards winners.

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