Curator of the month: Kirsty Ogg, New Contemporaries

  • 6 October 2015

The curator and former artist talks about why it's important to carve out your own space in the arts, and why there's no such thing as 'free time'.

Name and job title:

Kirsty Ogg, Director of New Contemporaries.

What inspired you to become a curator?

I didn’t set out to be a curator, but to be an artist. And like many people in the UK, this inspiration or motivation came from my local art gallery and museum, which in my case was Kelvingrove in Glasgow. There is an incredibly strong tradition of artistic practice and teaching in the city and that gives you something to both aspire to and kick against.

What was your first job in the art/museum world – and how did you get to where you are now?

I studied Sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art in the late 1980s and after graduating I became involved in the artist-run space Transmission in Glasgow. That was an incredible experience: working collaboratively with a group of other artists to make shows by local, national and international artists; establish global networks; create discourse around practice; and contribute to a scene. There was a pivotal moment when I realised that I enjoyed working with other artists and giving them a platform, rather than pursuing my own artistic career.

What has been the highlight of your career – and the biggest challenge?

Every exhibition I have worked on has been a highlight and a learning experience. I now work with the team at New Contemporaries and our exhibition partners on the annual touring Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition. This is an annual open-submission touring exhibition often involving over 40 artists and around 150 individual works, so trying to make some kind of visual sense of that volume of material for audiences in each venue, as well as drawing out the concerns of emerging practitioners, can be a challenge.

If you had one piece of advice for aspiring curators, what would it be?


“I’m the product of a particular moment in time when there was far more fluidity in the art world...”

  • Kirsty Ogg
  • Director, New Contemporaries

I’m the product of a particular moment in time when there was far more fluidity in the art world for people to move between being artist and curator, or to occupy these two positions simultaneously. We all live in a far more professionalised and competitive world, and there is an incredible weight of expectation on young people now to achieve, to be productive, to contribute straight away both creatively and economically. Much of this has to do with the fact that they graduate already saddled with huge debts and don’t have the luxury of just trying things out or taking time to formulate their position in relationship to the world. My piece of advice would be to try and do everything you can to carve out a space to think through your own position and approach.

What’s special about working at your organisation?

New Contemporaries has existed as an organisation since 1949 and the roster of artists that it has worked with as they emerge from art school is impressive. It reads like a who’s who of the British art world. In the period to 1989 it has included Frank Auerbach, Helen Chadwick, Patrick Caulfield, Peter Doig, Anthony Gormley, Mona Hatoum, Damien Hirst, David Hockney, John Hoyland, Isaac Julien, Anish Kapoor, RB Kitaj, Mark Leckey, Grayson Perry, Paula Rego, Mark Wallinger and Catherine Yass. Since 1989 Fiona Banner, Becky Beasley, Chantal Joffe, Nathaniel Mellors, Mike Nelson, Chris Ofili, Laure Prouvost, Conrad Shawcross, Simon Starling, Jane and Louise Wilson, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye have all been involved.

We have established a collaborative PhD with Nottingham Trent University that will look at our role in teaching and exhibition making practice, as well as the development of the British art world after the Second World War. This research will manifest itself in our public programmes over the coming years. I feel incredibly proud to lead an organisation that has played a part in creating the canon of post-war UK art and continues to bring visibility and, even more crucially, support to emergent practices.

What is your favourite object in your collection/exhibition and why?

We invite different selectors each year, many of whom are drawn from our alumni. Very often their research interests are reflected in the selected work, so each year we are working with a very different set of practices that provide a compelling snapshot of work being made in UK art schools. By giving emerging artists – who might otherwise remain under that radar – a platform at this stage of their career is the very reason New Contemporaries continues to be the leading and longest-running open-submission exhibition, showcasing some of the most dynamic and engaging work emerging today.

Away from work, how do you spend your free time?

It is a joy and also a burden that in the arts there is no free time: eventually any hobby, preoccupation or interest is turned into a piece of work, an exhibition, a project, a text, or a framing device to approach the production of these things.

Tags: Curator of the monthSupporting museums