Wednesday, 8 January 2014

A Case Study on the Curatorial Studentship at Tate Liverpool.

Introduction

I intend to focus this exploratory case study on the institutional aspects of the Tate Liverpool Curatorial Studentship, with particular reference to ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ and its place in art history. Tate is a non-profit organisation and a vital part of the museum and institution industry in the UK. During my three months at Tate, I developed both the knowledge and experience required to create diverse and ground breaking results as part of a well-structured exhibitions team. I was not only involved in ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ but also Chagall: Modern Master and Mondrian and his Studios: Abstraction into the World. Evidence of my interpretation ideas are still visible as part of Tate Liverpool’s recent collection change Constellations, where I suggested the use of wall graphics. This suggestion was used; allowing me to remain part of Tate even after the studentship had ended. Galleries tend to attribute such ideas to exhibition teams as a whole rather than to individuals, particularly when it comes to the curating and interpretation of collection changes, yet when, as an individual, your idea is highly regarded, to be a part of it as a whole is an exciting prospect.

Tate Liverpool offer a curatorial studentship annually and exclusively to one student on the MA Art, Aesthetics, and Cultural Institutions Programme at the University of Liverpool. The Tate Studentship offers the chance to work within the Exhibitions and Displays team at Tate Liverpool, on a variety of different projects. The successful candidate was to work on the exhibition ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’, the first exhibition to explore glam style and sensibility in-depth. As well as carrying out loan research and administration, they were also to be present during the installation and observe behind-the-scenes of realising a large-scale international exhibition. There were opportunities to feed into discussions about future exhibitions and collection displays at Tate Liverpool Programme Group meetings, as well as being involved in the 2013 Collection change which would see both floors of the collection displays renewed. In an online recommendation made by Eleanor Clayton (Assistant Curator: Exhibitions and Displays at Tate Liverpool) it was stated that “Tiffany held the Tate Liverpool Studentship for three months during a very busy time at the gallery, providing enthusiastic and important support to the exhibitions team. Additionally, she was keen to share her ideas and contributed to cross-departmental meetings.” (Clayton, 2013)

It was mandatory that all the correct procedures were undertaken once accepted as the curatorial studentship holder. A Human Resources Consultant requests all previous addresses and a passport copy sent to the correct Tate location for the position, this is in order for a Disclosure Application to be processed. The processes undertaken by institutions in terms of administration and validation could be described as being as ritualistic; they are as much a part of the institution as the art work within. Everyone, from the director to the catering staff is bound to the institution by paper, their work trapped underneath the glass of rules and regulations, health and safety and political correctness. The ritualistic approach to organising a gallery, is mirrored by the ways in which we visit such institutions, the ceremonial private views, the way we navigate the space, the way we know from experience, not to touch, not to break, when to keep looking, when to look away.



What is ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’?

‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ is the title of an exhibition that took place at Tate Liverpool between the 8th of February and the 12th of May 2013. It was also the basis for a number of other related events. Events that coincide with exhibitions are of the utmost importance as not only do they provide the public with workshops and other necessary educational outlets but they also allow us to gain a greater understanding of the artworks, the concept of the show and various ways in which one might interpret those things.


“Glam, a visually extravagant pop style exploded across Britain during the years 1971–5. … Glam! The Performance of Style is the first exhibition to explore glam style and sensibility in-depth. The exhibition investigates artistic developments in Britain Europe and North America through the prism of glam, examining painting, sculpture, installation art, film, photography and performance. Bringing together more than 100 artworks the exhibition will reveal the genealogy of glam.”


(Tate Website, 2013)

The glam era took place during the early to mid-seventies and did not really exist prior to or after that period but was responsible for a number of sub genres that formed because of its previous existence. Glam started in the UK and although it was present in the US, it didn’t really sell or take off in the same way. The marketing team at Tate decided that for the purpose of the public they would embrace the entirety of the seventies, something that although not technically true to the glam era, allowed space for the interpretation of event themes as well as audience participation and understanding, i.e. Tate Collective focused their events on an era just after that of glam, which involved people who made glam ‘glam’ but without the restricted time period.

Events such as ‘Glam! 21st Century Factory’ which was based on Warhol’s ‘The Factory’, a studio which existed until the mid-eighties and was based at three different locations in that time, although the idea was not specific to the glam era, the concepts developed were; concepts such as heightened aesthetics, self-staging, experimenting with style and identity. Inspired by the magnificent, timeless, pseudo superstars, androgynous and free, caught up in the swirl of cultural and historical events that made Britain. The pre punk, post hippy politics that shaped the artworks created during the glam era have provided us with paths and concepts many emerging artists choose to follow today. The narrative of the glam era spoke to more people than the punk era did as it was much more accessible, it was a full tilt proactive form of expression. Bearing this in mind, it allowed for the artists of the glam era to truly embrace new ways of creating art. This was not to be a seventies nostalgia exhibition but more of an insight into what the glam era did for art and design and how it is still relevant and reflected now, in 2013.



“With its close proximity to popular culture and associations with kitsch and frivolity, glam is apparently beyond the framework of high-modernist and formalist ideology. Glam, though, can be interpreted through Charles Jencks’ formulation of postmodernism as a term describing stylistic tendencies from the 1960s onwards. Broadly understood as a challenge to the rationalism of modernism, and applied by Jencks in relation to architecture, postmodernism was seen to prioritise eclecticism and pastiche over spontaneity and unique creative authenticity, effectively presupposing the collapse of modernist notions of progress. In this sense, postmodernism finds purchase with the stylistic eclecticism of glam, which combined a sense of revivalism and – crucially – futurity through its synthesis of visual iconography, from Marlene Dietrich to 1960s Pop art, Americana, high camp, and space-age chic.”


(Pih, 2013)

Curator Darren Pih managed to successfully connect every piece of ephemera, every sculpture, every video, every painting and every object, absolutely everything on display, to the glam era. Preparing for ‘Glam!’ involved mass organisation of object lists on TMS (The Museum System), especially when the time came to find images online for objects without images on TMS. It was paramount for the touring institutions that the ‘Glamscape UK’ and ‘Glamscape USA’ object lists were checked for a lack of images by comparing the numbered detail leaflet provided for the public with the objects on display and the objects on TMS, Google Images was then used to find and upload images of the objects. Taking precise measurements of the objects was then required as without measurements it would be difficult for the tour partners to create their exhibition plans. It was then a case of listing all of the video works and the ways in which they were displayed so the information could be passed over to the tour partners of the exhibition, Schirn Kunsthalle and Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz. The sheer amount of preparation done by an initial curator of a touring exhibition is quite intense as the tour partners need to adhere to the initial exhibition layout and concept prior to the arrival of the objects. All of this happens in a relatively short amount of time.

Relationships between tour partners, artists, galleries, dealers and couriers can make or break an exhibition. Therefore, impeccable administrative skills are fundamental when undertaking the majority of the behind the scenes work that make an exhibition, simple tasks such as how to scan piles of documents all at once rather than individually, telephone lists, answering calls, transferring calls, taking messages, loan administration, writing letters, filling in spread sheets, working on research, how to draft and redraft, to create labels using a printer, to print on letter head paper, how meetings work and are organised through Microsoft Outlook, where to find free meeting rooms, how to invite people to meetings, how to understand agendas, attendances, targets, minutes etc., how to answer a phone confidently etc. are all completely necessary and common sense is something often taken for granted. Letters for Francesco Manacorda (artistic director) to sign were placed in a ‘to sign’ tray and were analysed meticulously, the spacing had to be correct, the fonts and all of the formatting including the paper they were printed on had to be absolutely perfect before they were sent. Writing a letter using Tate formatting, such as font types and sizes, not using ‘th’ or ‘st’ in the date and eight spaces between the end of the letter and the signature takes some getting used to but this consistency across all correspondence makes for aesthetically pleasing archive documentation. 


Organising the digital folder for the loan correspondence on the T Drive, which is where everything scanned or edited was to be saved provided other members of staff with a clearer, more efficient system. The more complicated, or specialist administrative elements are taught by those in the know. Work such as pulling a report on TMS (The Museum System) organised by section, exporting it as a .pdf, sorting out each work by section and editing the work using a physical print out before going back and editing it again on TMS. This was particularly important when it came to the objects used in the ‘Glamscapes’. Advanced TMS Training is incredibly useful and definitely improves an individual’s ability to work with an exhibitions team, without sufficient database training one is unable to thoroughly complete tasks without additional or external help. By reading through the training documents prior to the training itself, one is able to develop their knowledge of creating a TMS loan record for short term loans in exhibitions and displays, object records and exhibition records even before being given full access and editorial rights on TMS. This familiarisation with TMS is something that must be practiced before being able to edit and create records as it is both a sophisticated and troublesome programme where some elements are easy to forget.

Cultural Institutions are forced to be resourceful when it comes to digital work as they often do not have the software which could easily improve their work load, an example of this would be the use of Paint rather than Photoshop to create numbered plans; this meant the plan would need to be recreated every time the numbering changed, whereas if one was to use Photoshop, one would only have needed to change the numbers on certain layers, not the entire plan. This is something the public are unaware of and would perhaps take for granted whilst viewing an exhibition, the amount of extra work needed due to the use of old technology is astounding. When creating the labels for ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ on QUARK, using a .PDF report pulled from TMS (The Museum System) containing all the works that required labels, organised by section. Microsoft Word was used to rescale images of each work for the floor plan of the exhibition. When creating labels using QUARK, it was important to remember to add guidelines prior to printing in order to know where to cut. Each label was to be cut by hand using a small desk top guillotine. Each label was printed individually, using black ink on white card. These labels were to be slid into perfectly positioned transparent plastic label holders once the works were in their final location on the gallery walls, a task undertaken by the art handlers.

These rescaled images are known as ‘icons’. The scale in this case was two centimetres to every metre and Tate measure all works using millimetres so it was imperative to come up with a formula to use whilst resizing both the height and width, in that order as to simplify the task at hand. The size used to rescale icons that do not have measurements or dimensions, such as installation work, exhibition prints, films, projections etc. is usually down to the specific needs of the assistant curator and curator. It is often a general size given, to use for all of these icons without measurements, it was subject to change but worked well as a general idea as most of these icons would be positioned in their own spaces and therefore the accuracy of the icon’s size was not as crucial as it was for framed works, paintings etc.

When new work is added to the loan of a lender, the additional page for the loan agreement is attached to an email and sent to the lender. The lender is then asked to print this off, complete and initial, and then return it to the assistant curator at Tate Liverpool. It is then the staff at Tate Liverpool’s job to print off and send a countersigned copy of the original loan agreement. Experiencing and dealing with loan correspondence and administration first hand on behalf of an institution is probably the best way to understand how it works; thoroughly proof reading through letters before sending them is vital as a single unclear sentence could put off or confuse a lender, particularly if it doesn’t make sense in relation to documents that may be attached to the letter. “Historically, the role of a curator was based on the dominant concerns of a collecting institution such as a museum. The curator functioned as a keeper, or a custodian, personally responsible for the acquisition, classification, and safeguarding of objects that formed the museum's collection.” (Bank, 2008) This is now an assignment for an entire exhibitions team, where a group of people are now responsible for what was once the sole role of a single individual. This sharing of role does not make the position any easier as with any group there will always be conflicting views when it comes to a subject as subjective as art.

One particular work of art featured in Glam seemed to be the subject of most discussion (with the exception of the ‘controversial’ Allen Jones works) was Marc Camille Chaimowicz: Celebration? Real Life. “Marc Chaimowicz made Celebration? Realife in 1972, staging it first in Birmingham and subsequently at Gallery House, London. For his first exhibition at the Cabinet Gallery, in the summer of 2000, Chaimowicz recreated the installation.” (Tate Website, 2000) Then again in 2013, Chaimowicz came to Tate Liverpool in order to recreate his installation, Chaimowicz makes reference to ‘trash culture’, a timeless quality in relation to what will forever be relevant objects or concepts pertaining to a time yet considered low-culture for the time itself. His use of obscure junk room style objects or bric-à-brac, glitter, post party style paraphernalia, candle wax and flowers give the audience a sense of what the seventies were to Chaimowicz but also how low-culture is inherent in contemporary society, described by some as ‘the after math of a party’ or a ‘teenager’s bedroom floor’. A 21st Century interpretation of what was, what is and what it might become. It was interesting that for this particular installation Chaimowicz purchased the objects in Liverpool, making the installation very much a part of the city it was displayed in. Although, the installation appeared quite uninhibited with objects strew all over the place, disco balls and music, every decision was carefully considered by both the exhibitions team and the artist. Days were spent considering the correct shade of silver, holding up samples against a white wall to see which would work best and comparing them to previous images of the installation. Unfortunately health and safety legislations made a lot of decisions tougher to deal with. A number of visitors were unsure as to whether or not they could enter the space but of course, followed those who took the first step. A path was created in order for the audience to at least try to walk through to the other artworks. A visitor assistant was on hand at all times to guide people through the space if required, to keep an eye on the open flames, the temperature and various other factors unbeknownst to the audience members walking through. The position of this particular piece received the more criticism yet it worked so well as the sound from this installation echoed through the space in such a way that it couldn’t be ignored, the sound of the glam era, something crucial to the understanding of the exhibition, in particular the ‘Glamscapes’. There was an abundance of objects, almost two hundred or so that were considered but not used and over three hundred were actually displayed. Most of these objects were ephemera, artefacts of the glam era, curated on walls known as ‘Glamscapes’. The interpretation for this work was provided in the form of a leaflet.

What are ‘Glamscapes’?


The ‘Glamscapes’ were walls that were used to exhibit the ephemera of the glam era, books, poster
s, vinyl, magazines, clothing, memorabilia etc. They were not an attempt to provoke nostalgia; they were not to be viewed as artefacts but as objects that aesthetically represented the glam era. The use of tacky or chintzy imagery, the bright and garish colours of glam juxtaposed with the subdued colours of the seventies, all things that echoed that particular period were visible in one way or another, the ‘Glamscapes’ mirrored a sort of escapism that one hoped to achieve through glam, an escapism that one was never before able to achieve. 

Ephemera, is usually described as something that has only existed to be enjoyed for a short period of time, something that is ordinarily printed, or written, in the form of collectible memorabilia. Many people often consider ephemera as artefact and in the case of the ‘Glamscapes’, some members of the public considered the ephemera, or art, as artefact and nothing more, therefore, in their opinion, it was not art and didn’t belong in an exhibition amongst works of art in the traditional sense, i.e. paintings, sculptures etc. but these objects, collectively as ‘Glamscapes’ did work as a whole, they could have easily been misinterpreted as a work of art and bearing that in mind could have been described as an installation, one which combined and displayed several ‘ready-mades’ from the glam era; thus raising the question of the curator as artist, creating an installation rather than simply displaying thoughts for their historical significance. “If the modern figure of the art critic has been well recognized since Diderot and Baudelaire, the curator’s true raison d’être remains largely undefined. No real methodology or clear legacy stands out in spite of today’s proliferation of courses in curatorial studies. The curator’s role, as shown in the following interviews, appears already built into pre-existing art professions …” (Cherix cited in Obrist, 2008, Preface) The ‘raison d'être’, or ‘reason for existence’ of a curator seems to be that of an individual who creates something out of the created, by organising and categorising existing objects.



“As a category, artefacts are normally distinguished from works of art both conceptually and as objects of museum display. The art/artefact distinction marks the divide between the disciplines of anthropology on the one hand and art history and criticism on the other.”


(Duncan, 1995)

Although one could argue that the seventies was not long enough ago for the ephemera to be considered artefact, it is possible for them to be collectively seen as art, by using the term ‘Glamscapes’ it is almost as though the curator has created a form of art not yet considered by the art world, installations, created specifically in relation to the glam era, which although they consist of various ephemera, do not exist to be represented as the displays of separate objects but rather as a connection between all objects on display. If we consider ‘The Physical Self’, an exhibition actualised by Peter Greenaway as a guest curator at the Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, in 1991, “Greenaway illustrated the human body in terms of a chronological progression … Greenaway was able to visualise the numerous elements in a coherent scheme.” (Putnam, 2009) I believe that Darren Pih, managed to curate ‘Glam!’ in a similar way, by illustrating the glam era, chronologically and geographically, creating a sort of timeless art historical landscape that manages to connect the early seventies to the early 21st Century in a way that is relatable, both aesthetically and politically. ‘Glamscapes’, like the above mentioned work of Greenaway seem to offer stills, similar to that of a film, sequentially isolated images of displayed objects that when looked at as a whole form an overall image, a displayed object in itself, one which is equally, if not more gratifying visually and conceptually than the individual works on display.

Spatial Awareness


The exhibition itself was displayed in a way that quite forcefully causes the audience to navigate the gallery space from beginning to end, as you walk in through the main door, with the Glamscapes as your first visual reference, such exposure to what could be considered to be memorabilia may lead an audience to interpret the works differently, how the artists were influenced by what the audience initially see, rather than the other way around. To begin from the artworks may have bettered the understanding of the artist’s interpretations of the glam era, for example, the audience views the work and then once confronted with the Glamscapes they can make their own assumptions as to how or why an artist chose to create what was created. An audience member will react relatively fast, on a subconsciously level when observing initial displays. What one sees as one enters the space and the ways in which this affects the audiences view of the rest of the exhibition must be taken into consideration and if one is to view something out of the ordinary, i.e. the ‘Glamscapes’, prior to the artworks it is something which could go either way. It may be possible that one might understand an exhibition better, or find it more interesting, to view it backwards, by this I mean, to go against the interpretation set out for the audience by the gallery. To view the works in such a way that was not intended, on the first visit. Then to compare this to viewing the works in the ‘correct’ or structured manner, a planned order set out for the audience. It isn’t just mapping the gallery space which proves tough as to how an audience may interpret it. If the colours of the walls, the sounds, the smells, if anything is slightly over looked, the exhibition may not live up to the art works on display within a space, for it seems to be the space that heavily influences the audiences view of the artworks. To move the majority of exhibited works into an alternative space would perhaps cause them to lose the very reason they’re viewed as artworks. If one was to view the same album covers, magazines and books featured in the ‘Glamscapes’ within a shopping environment, either online or on a high street you wouldn’t consider such a space to be a gallery or the objects to be art works. A major part of any exhibited work is the surroundings it is placed in; this adds to the context of the piece, without it, we would be experiencing art everywhere. It is the white cube space, which, even if the walls are pink, allows us to best consider such works. Any alternative spaces, for example, the walls of a university corridor cause works to be over looked as the purpose of the space was not intended for the viewing of art works, it was intended for passage, to get from A to B so to speak, the art works in such a space become decoration.

Choosing the paint for the walls and the wallpaper to be used in ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ was of considerable significance to the show. The original red and white printed pattern version the curators were considering appeared far too bright and expensive for the time, especially when used in such a way as it was to be intended. In order to create the feeling of a domestic setting, the wallpaper should look as though it was chosen for its reasonable value by the parents of a person with these kinds of Glam posters on their walls, it should feel like the early 1970’s, the atmosphere should scream of council house creams, greens and beiges, nicotine stained with a simplistic patterns. As this wallpaper was to be the backdrop for a room with fan pictures and band posters I felt it was even more relevant that the atmosphere was perfect. Although the space was much larger than say, the average bedroom on whose walls the posters would have originally hung, the wallpaper was able to draw the audience’s eyes in towards the posters, it wasn’t too boring, too busy or too distracting in any way. These posters were not expensive to buy in the seventies, some were even given away free with vinyl or music magazines, making them incredibly accessible. This allowed an older audience to relate much more so to the environment as it was highly likely they may have had the same posters up on their own walls. They may have looked at the photographs of the glam era fans and related what they saw to their own lives at the time, connecting in some way to a particular hair style, fashion sense or even a background object, for example they may have had the same bedding, alarm clock or radio. The ability to relate to at least some of the works in such an exhibition are a key part of the experience as this allows the audience to establish a relationship, to create a dialogue between the past and the present.

Conclusion

Was Glam! The Performance of Style really an art exhibition or simply an accumulation of objects despite the original intentions of the curator? Was the orientation of the entire show essentially thematic and therefore more closely related to a collection display in a museum rather than an art gallery? Was this temporary exhibition a commentary on the ever changing standards of the art exhibition, a rebellious attempt to blur the traditional boundaries between museum and art gallery? With a new exhibition being shown every three months or so at major galleries across the world, it is almost as though museums and galleries are attempting to remind people of their existence, as though the public may become bored with permanent collections and may crave something new, in an age where we’re constantly updating, changing, creating, recreating and searching both online and offline, the public sphere must offer us something we can’t get elsewhere, something that quenches our cultural thirst. A digital or virtual exhibition, whether permanent or temporary, is never the same as viewing a physical exhibition. It is akin to the corridor of art mentioned previously, although aesthetically pleasing, it is for some reason, not quite right as a location for viewing such work. Yet even so called permanent collections are really just temporary collections in terms of what is put on display, they may not change every three months as exhibitions containing loaned works do but they may change every three years which is still relatively temporary in comparison to older or specialist institutions with smaller collections.



“Exhibitions have become the medium through which most art becomes known. Not only have the number and range of exhibitions increased dramatically in recent years, but museums and art galleries such as Tate in London and the Whitney in New York now display their permanent collections as a series of temporary exhibitions. Exhibitions are the primary site of exchange in the political economy of art, where signification is constructed, maintained, and occasionally deconstructed. Part spectacle, part socio-historical event, part structuring device, exhibitions— especially exhibitions of contemporary art— establish and administer the cultural meanings of art.” 


(Greenberg R. et al. cited in Obrist H., 1996)

If one is to agree that exhibitions play such a part in our lives, then it is important to consider how an exhibition such as ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ may cause us to question our preconsidered opinions of certain objects as artworks and the spaces in which such artworks are displayed. The significance of displaying objects as artworks or even ready-mades (in the Duchampian sense of the word) when they could be considered as artefacts deconstructs the idea of curator as organiser and puts them in the position of artist, although throughout the twentieth century is seems that most curators were art professionals who went on to become gallery directors, they weren’t usually artists, nor were they considered as such. Has the cultural meaning of art changed in the twenty first century? It could be that by using the combination of ephemeral objects and contemporary artworks in ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’, a significant development has occurred, one that is both popular and unpopular as it moves away from the normality of the usual. It is a sign of things to come, as though this exhibition and its place in art history may have become part of a larger crossover between the traditional museum (of historical artefacts) and the twenty first century art gallery.


References and Bibliography

Anon. (2013) ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ Tate [Online]. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/exhibition/glam-performance-style (Accessed: 20th June 2013)

Anon. (2000) ‘Marc Camille Chaimowicz’ Tate [Online]. Available from: http://www2.tate.org.uk/audioarts/cd3_17_transcript.htm (Accessed: 20th June 2013)

Bank, D. (2008) ‘Curator’ Curators in Context [Online] Available from: http://curatorsincontext.wikispaces.com/Curator (Accessed: 14th July 2013)

Clayton, E. (2013) ‘Recommendations’ Tiffany Horan [Online/LinkedIn Profile]. Available from: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=125264331&trk=tab_pro (Accessed: 20th June 2013)

Duncan, C. (1995) Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums (Re Visions: Critical Studies in the History & Theory of Art) UK: Routledge.

Greenberg R., Ferguson B. W., Nairne S. (1996) “Introduction,” Thinking about Exhibitions London and New York: Routledge. p. 2.

Obrist, H. U. (2008) A Brief History of Curating Switzerland: JRP Ringier.

Putnam, J. (2009) Art and Artefact: The Museum as Medium UK: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Tate et al., Pih, D. ed. (2013) Glam The Performance of Style UK: Tate Publishing.