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Getting to Grips with Curating – by Ed Isaacs

I was elected Honorary Curator last August and I am now getting my feet under the table. Having just completed the installation of the Members and Associates Exhibition I thought I would share some thoughts about curating this show.

When I entered the RBSA on Monday 15 November there were around 140 2D works and a further 35 3D works needing to be installed. The 2D works were all stacked around the edge of the 2nd floor gallery in totally random order. The challenge was how to display these works in a coherent, interesting and pleasing fashion across the three galleries.

With around 200 Members and Associates, I guess there would be around 200 different approaches to this challenge and, of course, with issues such as this, there is no way anyone can be proved right or wrong. What I can do, however, is set out some of the principles I tried to stick to when curating the Members and Associates Exhibition.

  1. There are key locations in each of the galleries where it is important to hang large ‘statement’ pieces.

These are usually those areas where your eye naturally falls when entering each of these galleries and forms a focal point. I usually want to see large eye-catching works in these locations.

  1. I try to hang works in a way where there is a ‘conversation’ between adjoining pictures.

Having set out some key statement pictures in each of the galleries, I then try to position pictures next to them that relate to them in some way. This could be by theme, material, style or even framing – there isn’t a hard and fast way, it is just be looking at what seems ‘right’. It isn’t always possible, but I try to give each corner of the gallery a particular ‘feel’.

  1. Sometimes it is important to keep an artist’s work together, sometimes it isn’t.

I have noticed that some artists like to see their work kept together, but from a curatorial point of view this isn’t always possible or even desirable. I try to keep an artist’s work together where there is a clear link between the two artworks or smaller works which look very effective hung together, but would look a bit lost when hung separately. Works by the same artist that are effective and powerful in their own right can be split up and this can be helpful from a curatorial view by allowing more flexibility and variety in the hang and achieving a good balance of work in each of the galleries.

  1. If at all possible, I avoid having to put up the window boards

The window boards are important when there isn’t enough space to hang all the work, however, in my view the appearance of the galleries is so much better when the window boards are down. It is always worth planning the hang to make this possible without unacceptable overcrowding of works.

I did have the support of a couple of people in curating this exhibition and I find this extremely helpful. I don’t believe in “curating by committee”, but having someone to bounce one’s thoughts off is good. It is the curator’s decision, however, that is final.

I am still very new to the job and will welcome feedback on my efforts. I know there are things with the current hang that I would do differently now that I have had a chance to wander round the galleries and look at the exhibition in detail. However, given that 11 volunteers took a day to install the exhibition, it isn’t easy to go back and make changes. I found the act of curating this exhibition hugely rewarding,

I do hope everyone enjoys the exhibition.

Ed Isaacs RBSA

Honorary Curator