Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Inside the world of curating. A visit to COLLECT 2015

This was my first visit to COLLECT, the International Art Fair for Contemporary Objects. The North West Craft Network awarded bursaries to a number of curators in the North West, and I was one of the recipients.
The excitement built in the couple of weeks before as galleries which were displaying filled my inbox with information about the artists who would be showing at the Saatchi Gallery. An invitation to apply for the Craft Council’s Museum Purchase Fund also arrived, with the opportunity to bid for pieces from the fair which would be purchased by the Crafts Council.
I had three main aims from the fair:
The first was to solidify my ideas as to which artists I will shortlist for our Contemporary Art Society Craft acquisition later this year. I was still in the initial research phase for this and have been visiting as many exhibitions and artists as I can. COLLECT was a great opportunity to see work by some makers I am interested in, and of course, see work which I was previously unaware of.
The second was to meet some of the makers who are represented in our collection, several of whom I’ve had e-mail and phone contact with but have never actually met face-to-face – Natasha Daintry and Ann Sutton in particular.
The third was to meet other colleagues from across the country who are also working alongside makers.
The morning session was the private view, at which speeches were given by Rosy Greenlees, Director of the Crafts Council and Geoffrey Crossick, Chair of the Trustees of the Crafts Council. My highlight of this section was the announcement that Gallery Oldham was one of the three museums across the country awarded work under the Crafts Council Museum Purchase Fund. We were awarded ‘Patience Flower XXIII’, 2014 by Vipoo Srivilasa and ‘Journey Jar’, 2015 by Adam Buick.

The afternoon part of the Curator Day was key note sessions followed by two case studies of recent acquisitions with the Contemporary Art Society. The first key note was a really interesting presentation by Tulga Beyerle, Director of the Dresden Museum of DecorativeArts, in which Beyerle described working in a small overlooked museum in Germany. Beyerle’s museum had little in the way of twentieth century craft so she had decided to start from scratch with a twenty-first century craft collection. While the context in Dresden is really different from the context in which I work, there was lots to take from Beyerle’s presentation, and her pragmatism, commitment and enthusiasm was really infectious.
Next up was Alastair Hudson from MIMA who spoke about the challenges of ensuring that museums remain valued by the communities they serve, rather than merely being tolerated at best. He talked in detail about loads of really exciting initiatives happening in Middlesborough. There’s not space to go into detail about them here – but do go and have a look at their website.
Next came the two case studies from curators who had recently received funding from the Contemporary Art Society – Fiona Slattery Clark from Birmingham Museums and Katherine McClung-Oakes from Bury Art Museum. It was really helpful to me to listen to their experiences as I am at the early stages of my first experience of the process this year. 
So all in all, I had a really great time at COLLECT 2015 and learnt a lot. There was a real buzz around the show. It was exciting to see so many private collectors supporting the sector. I personally really enjoyed bumping into makers who I’ve only met recently like Michael Eden, and catching up with others like Halima Cassell who I’ve known for a while. It was SO brilliant to spend that much time in a space which was brimming with lovely, lovely things.
Rebecca Hill
Exhibitions & Collections Coordinator (Art)
Gallery Oldham