Category Archives: Process of Curating

That’s a Wrap – Reflecting on GENERATIONS

GENERATIONS: Connecting Across Time and Place is over. The vinyl lettering has been peeled off the walls, the artworks have been packed up and sent back, the gallery door has been locked. Pulling apart something we’ve worked so hard to create felt really strange, but I have to remember that an art exhibition is transient by its very nature. That’s showbiz, baby.

Goodbye wall text

But GENERATIONS hasn’t disappeared completely: we’ve still got the memories (and the spare exhibition leaflets). Over the last month, the eleven of us each spent more than 40 hours in the gallery, working as invigilators and visitor-experience assistants for our exhibition. This gave us the opportunity to observe how the public responded to the show (and to tell them not to touch the paintings, please). It also reminded us that an exhibition only really comes alive when people are in it. After all, everything we’d done over the preceding few months – writing wall labels, working out which work to hang next to which, even making sure there were enough benches – was intended to make every visitor’s experience accessible, enjoyable and maybe even enlightening.

One woman watched Helen Cammock’s There’s a Hole in the Sky Part I video several times over and clapped at the end; one little girl sat on the floor in front of Appau Jnr Boakye Yiadom’s Plantain Drop, transfixed by the falling fruit; one family spent a long time in front of Hurvin Anderson’s Is it okay to be black?, the parents talking to their children about the American civil rights movement. These are just a few examples of the audience engagement I witnessed; perhaps quite ordinary moments, but extraordinarily exciting for one of the exhibition’s curators.

This audience engagement took tangible form through the exhibition’s ‘feedback’ wall, which asked people to write their response to the question, ‘How do you connect to other generations?’ I think this is one of the aspects of GENERATIONS of which we’re proudest – and for which we’re most grateful. Our visitors wrote some profound, funny, heart-breaking and truly beautiful comments about their family relationships, regrets about the past and hopes for future generations (have a look at some in the Your Voice tab). Visitors didn’t just take something away from the exhibition; they also left behind their own contribution.



I think the last thing to say is thank you. Thank you to our course leader Martin, to our sponsor Christian, to so many members of the Courtauld staff, to the Arts Council Collection, to Somerset House and to everyone else who worked with us. Thank you to the visitors who made this a ‘real-life’ exhibition. And I’d also like to say thank you to my ten fellow students, who have shown themselves to be great curators and great friends.


Dream team

Exhibition Process – Installation

GENERATIONS: Connecting Across Time and Place is now open – but how did it become the space you can visit today? Find out with a sneak peek of the installation process in this post.

That’s it: we did it. Our annual class exhibition  is now open. As part of the installation team, I could not  be prouder of what we have achieved, especially after spending almost two weeks in the space, watching it be filled with artworks, benches, labels and engaging feedback wall.  There’s a lot more to installing an exhibition than I originally thought: it begins the moment you get to know the works and can see relationships forming between them. Installation involves everything from perfectly visualizing the exhibition space, to exchanging a lot of emails with contractors and screwing tiny screws into the walls. Let’s break it down.

Snapshot of the exhibition in "Sketchup", 1st room
Snapshot of the exhibition in "Sketchup", 2nd room
Snapshot of the exhibition in "Sketchup", 3rd room

For the Installation team (Katie, Valeria and I), the hard work began a little later than for the other groups. While we were waiting for all the correct information on the artworks (media and sizes, mostly) as well as instructions from the two main institutions we were working with (Arts Council Collection for loans and Somerset House for exhibition site), we began to create a virtual model of the exhibition. I really enjoyed playing around in Sketchup, a modelling software where you can scale a space and design endless scenarios of the displays we came up with in a whole-group brainstorming sessions. Not only was it fun to be able to simulate in real time and space what we were thinking, but it also gave us at least a small sense of what our exhibition could look like. ‘But be cautious’, our course leader Martin warned, ‘and never trust a simulated space entirely. The reality is always quite different.’

And he was right. On May 28, it was go time. We contacted and planned all kinds of transportation and deliveries, construction, artwork hanging, audio-visual equipment,and so on – now that we were as prepared as we could be, we had to keep our fingers crossed that everything would go smoothly. Thanks to the help of the Arts Council Collection handlers and the Courtauld Gallery conservators and registrar, the overall installation went without a hitch – we were even ahead of schedule! It was very important to follow this schedule as each day was dedicated to a specific aspect of the installation process: one day was devoted condition checking the artwork (a necessary step for their protection), another to hanging them, another to taking delivery of gallery furniture, another to installing the A/V equipment, and yet another to adjusting the lights and placing wall texts and labels.

On another note, here’s a reason why Sketchup is not to be fully trusted: the ambient lighting in the first room of the exhibition space proved to be much too bright in the afternoon and could endanger some light sensitive artworks (particularly the photographs). This apparently small setback was actually major in the condition for opening the exhibition, and we had to think quick on how to fix and blind the windows.

We also had the chance to include one of the exhibiting artists in the installation process: Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom came to help install Plantain Drop, a multi-media work (a print and a video). It was very interesting for us to see the artist working with his own piece in relation to other artworks, the space and the light.

In the end, everything is surely not perfect, as all the requirements, short time-span and few setbacks were all new to us – but for our first exhibition, we are all very satisfied with how the space turned out : it is a beautifully crafted exhibition with compelling artworks. Alas! It is not over for us yet, after installation inevitably comes… the deinstallation!

man in front of a wall with some people setting up a picture

Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom in front of his artwork Plantain Drop being installed


View of the first room
View of the second room
View of the third room


Exhibition Process – Interpretation

In the run up to the opening of GENERATIONS: Connecting Across Time and Place, we will be giving you a peek at what is going on behind the scenes. Today’s post is about interpretation!

Interpretation is basically everything that gives you information about the works and the exhibition, from the captions and leaflet to your tour guide. Taking on the challenge is our Interpretation Team, formed of Amber, Carlotta and me. It’s quite a major task, as it was up to us to formulate the main themes and ideas of the exhibition through words.

Carlotta, Debbie and Amber hard at work editing the object captions

A couple of weeks ago, the whole MA Curating group met with Sam McGuire, Interpretation Curator at Tate, and Rachael Minott, Curator at the Horniman Museum. They helped us go through our interpretation strategy and texts, giving us invaluable advice and making sure we were on the right track. Not writing too formally has been a bit of a challenge for us and although we couldn’t be persuaded to throw in any hashtags or witty retorts (sorry), we’ve now got something we’re pretty happy with.

For some of the works, it was more difficult to find information online or in the library. We took this opportunity to talk directly with some of exhibiting artists. We met with Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom to discuss his practice and specifically his 2014 work Plantain Drop. It was a great opportunity to hear more about his work which looks at the intersection of different cultures and the many cultural references we can read into everyday objects. For example, in Plantain Drop we might see a slapstick banana skin, a graphic screen print or a phallic symbol from Freudian psychology. Personally, it makes me think of one of the few really Nigerian things we ate as a family growing up and a trip to Lagos aged 8 when I refused to eat anything else!

Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom, Plantain Drop, 2014. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. © the artist

We also met Alejandra Carles-Tolra and gave our first tour of the exhibition – albeit with no works yet in place. We are so used to seeing the exhibition plans on SketchUp, that I think it took us a while to realise that Alejandra couldn’t actually see any works on the walls we were pointing at. She assured us that although it was her first exclusively auditory tour, she had really enjoyed it.

We are very excited that both artists, along with Hardeep Pandhal, will be discussing their work as part of our programme of talks and events.

For the leaflet, and to be featured on this website, we have also been collecting quotes from interesting people about how they connect to other generations. We are really excited to have gathered some really insightful and personal quotes from poets, politicians, musicians and more, which we will share here over the coming weeks.

Leaflet progression – final version to come

After a couple of months hard craft for what is essentially a couple of hundred words, we are almost done! With nearly everything sent to print, we can sit back, relax and try not to have too many nightmares about typos…