My recent co-curation of Jazz Up Your Lizard, the exhibition of work by Steve Murison that celebrate five years’ of the blog, got me thinking again about what it means to be a curator of outsider art.
In previous posts, I have mentioned that the role of a curator is to display work that fits into the ‘outsider’ category in exactly the same way as you would go about displaying ‘mainstream’ art. White cube, professional frames, even spacing, measurements and accuracy, pristine walls. The idea being that art is art is art, regardless of what ‘category’ it fits into and regardless of who created it. It should be just art. And of course, the best way to break down any distinctions is to hold the work in the same stead when it comes to showing it to the public.
However, certain factors have changed my mind. Whilst curating Steve’s show, I suddenly had a bit of a revelation. It was a revelation that was partly the result of the existing practicalities of the gallery space, but also a revelation in what it means to curate work that is unique, distinctive, and alive beyond the surface it has been created on.
Gallery Lock In, the venue for the exhibition, is unique in itself. From the outside, it’s just two garages, and when the doors are down, you wouldn’t even be able to guess what’s going on inside. But manager and curator Beth Troakes has done a fantastic job of creating a unique, cavernous, characterful space. It’s not a bland white cube. It has life as a space in it’s own right – even without any work on the walls.
The walls in the gallery had been painted black for a previous exhibition, and we decided to leave them like that. Steve’s work is vibrant, and on the surface quite jolly, but it hides hints of darker inferences. I was apprehensive at first, given the thoughts I’d outlined in previous posts. In fact, what we managed to create was an exhibition that was a whole new piece of art in itself. The unique character of the gallery really complemented Steve’s equally unique work. They played together in a way that brought out the best in both.
Perhaps everything I’d insisted about white cube spaces was actually a huge generalisation. There is work that is better complemented, better exhibited, in spaces that are equally as edgy. Sure, Steve’s work would have looked great in a white washed, square gallery space – because his work is great full stop. But in Gallery Lock In, it looked like it belonged there. It looked comfortable, at home.
Maybe we are doing a disservice to some works by trying to squeeze them into a space that’s the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong fit. Maybe the purpose of an outsider art curator – or in fact, any curator – is to find (or make) a space that works with the art, shaping the place to fit the work, rather than the other way round.
It would be great to know what you think about this – leave your comments below!