We asked curator Sarah Brown how she uses the web to research and promote exhibitions. Until recently Sarah was Curator of Contemporary Projects at Harewood House (2001-2008) near Leeds and Associate Curator for Huddersfield Art Gallery (2001-2010). In November she takes up the post of Curator (Exhibitions) at Leeds Art Gallery.
What was it like organising shows before the internet existed?
I remember planning and organising exhibitions before there was email, internet and mobile phones. Curators had a very different relationship with artists, galleries and information.
Publications and libraries were my main source; and I spent a lot of time waiting for faxes! Of course, I also visited shows, collections and studios.
How does the internet help you plan shows, find new artists and build relationships with artists worldwide?
I would say now that the internet is certainly a first port of call to get a sense of an artist’s work and its potential availability.
But I’ve never included an artist in an exhibition without experiencing their work in real life. The process of visiting, meeting an artist and doing a studio visit is so important, as is seeing work in collections.
The internet is very helpful in planning visits to international events. The speed at which I can negotiate, interpret and read these international platforms is greatly increased by on-line research. Pre-internet, I would spend the first hours/half day finding my bearings, whereas now I can start running.
When planning the recent Carl Plackman show at Huddersfield Art Gallery, how useful was the internet for research and making contact with people who knew him or were inspired by his work?
During the initial research, it was really a case of looking through his studio/works/slides and sketchbooks. But since we did the show, there is now a site dedicated to Carl Plackman and his work.
He operated before the internet was available, so it will be interesting to see the impact of his work online. Certainly the opportunity to make contact with people who know him and were inspired by his work mainly came out of our online publicity for the exhibition.
Do you find that exhibitions draw in a larger audience if they're advertised online? If so, do you reach a broader audience and draw visitors in from further afield by marketing shows this way?
Recently I worked with Kettle's Yard in Cambridge on a show of contemporary sculpture entitled Material Intelligence and we used the internet to produce a catalogue/texts about the artists and their work.
We also commissioned responses to the show, which were presented both physically and online. This attracted comments from New York and other places abroad – in part because many of the artists themselves were from outside the UK.
I think it would be interesting to provide online information about shows and commissions before they exist and so provide a more edited or ‘advertorial’ approach to publicising exhibitions. I’m thinking about how Tate have been blogging their shows before they happen - so you have the 'voice' and authorship of an exhibition before it actually takes place.
Sarah Brown on Axis