The Tate Britain is currently showing an exhibition of Vorticism, one of the truly avant-garde movements of British history. The exhibition includes over 100 works including paintings, sculptures and the rarely seen Vorticist photography of Alvin Langdon Coburn, claimed as the first ever abstract photographs. We catch up with Tim Batchelor, Assistant Curator, to see what goes into curating an exhibition like this…
Tell us a bit about yourself….
I work as an assistant curator in the curatorial department at Tate Britain. One of my roles is the researching, planning and implementation of exhibitions. I have been working with Chris Stephens, Vivien Greene and Mark Antliff, the curators of ‘The Vorticists’, over the past year and a half in organising the exhibition for display at Tate Britain.
Why did Tate Britain decide to put on an exhibition of the Vorticists work?
Vorticism was an important moment in the development of modernism in Britain, but it is often overlooked in relation to over modern developments at that time. This was an opportunity to focus solely on the movement and the artists involved, over thirty years since the last exhibition to examine the movement, and bring it to greater public attention.
What do you find particularly interesting about this exhibition?
What’s fascinating about the show is the range of material by different artists. The Vorticists were a gathering of like-minded people who pursued their art in different ways and encompassed different techniques and media. The abstract photographs – or ‘vortographs’ – by Alvin Langdon Coburn, are fantastic and will be a revelation for many people. Lent by the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, this is a rare opportunity to see a large grouping of them in the UK.
As a curator, how do you go about finding the work and choosing what to show?
This is really a case of researching collections, looking through previous exhibition catalogues and having good relationships with collectors, art historians and different art institutions. Thankfully, modern information and communication technology makes this a lot easier. As a result, works that had previously been overlooked, forgotten or unknown have come to light. In the research for this exhibition three key paintings by Helen Saunders were found in a university art collection in Chicago. They are being shown publicly in a Vorticism exhibition for the first time in decades.
How did you become a curator?
I studied art history and fine art at art college. After graduating I started helping out in a new gallery that was just about to open – painting the walls, answering the phone etc. – and things just carried on from there.
Do you often work with photography?
It really depends on the type of project I’m working on. But, it’s always fascinating to do so when the opportunity arises.
What does your average day involve?
No two days are the same as there is such a variety of things to be done, whether it be a trip to the Tate archive to look at and select letters and photographs for display, contacting lenders to confirm the loan arrangements of their paintings, or looking at sample colours for the walls of the galleries. There are also regular meetings with colleagues across Tate to plan and organise different aspects of the exhibition, from conservation and copyright to educational events and merchandising.
Who is your favourite photographer and why?
It’s difficult to pick just one photographer – any favourite will change after the next great thing I see. An exhibition I worked on a few years ago – ‘A Picture of Britain’ – included some fantastic photographs by Edwin Smith and Bill Brandt, as well as landscape views by Fay Goodwin and Justin Partyka. But there are a few photographers that I keep coming back to, particularly the work of Julia Margaret Cameron and Roger Fenton. We currently have a display at Tate Britain of Fenton’s orientalist subjects, which runs until the end of July. It’s really interesting to see them in relation to some of the orientalist paintings of the period.
2for1 for The Vorticists at Tate Britain with Lomography
Available on bookings from 01 June – 04 September 2011
Available for online bookings by entering code: lomographyoffer
Available via telephone by calling 020 7887 8998 and quoting “Lomography Offer”
Terms and Conditions:
This offer is available for telephone and online bookings only for the Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World at Tate Britain until 4 September 2011. Subject to availability, booking fee applies. This offer is not valid for group bookings. This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer. Tate reserves the right to cancel this offer at any time.