Museum and Gallery Exhibitions of 2010: Curators choose their favourites

Interviews by Ben Miller | 21 December 2010
An image of an illustration for a biblical manuscript
Epic of the Persian Kings at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge
We asked a few curators and artists to take time out from planning their well-deserved holidays and pick the shows which got them excited in 2010. Here's what they had to say - click on the links to find out what we thought of their choices...

Gill Park, Programme Producer and Gallery Manager, Pavilion, Leeds:

"An inspiring multi-location screening event in Leeds, curated by Pavilion with visual artist Aurelien Froment.

“Froment is a French artist who is interested in the way meaning is formed around objects and sites. His works explore subjects as diverse as Arcasanti (a utopian building project in Arizona), a jellyfish in the Monteray Bay Aquariam and the Fourdrinier paper machine in Basel.

"Pavilion presented Froment’s work via several different locations that echoed the ideas and images within the films. In just one evening screenings took place in a former 19th century flax mill, a renovated factory (now an apartment block) an independent cinema, the Leeds BBC big screen and even on a coach.

“The event enabled a fascinating exploration of the artist’s practice as well as the way we encounter moving image.”

Froment will be commissioned by Pavilion to make a new work in 2011. Visit www.pavilion.org.uk for more.

A photo of a painting of a man in profile
Christen Købke (1810–1848), Self Portrait, about 1833, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen© SMK Foto
Dr Amanda Draper, Keeper of Fine Art, Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston:

“Christen Købke at the National Gallery was enchanting from start to finish. For someone who spends their life looking at art, it was a revelation to be introduced to the work of this artist who is obscure outside Denmark. Indeed, it is incredible that his reputation has not travelled further.

"Købke was adept at capturing the textures of building and landscapes with an exquisite use of light; perhaps even better were his portraits of family and friends, which evoked personality and moods with delicate, fluid strokes.

"For a couple of happy hours I felt transported to Kobke’s small, charming Copenhagen world of the 1830s and 1840s.”

Cat Rushmore, Science Curator,
Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester:

“Walls are Talking at the  in Manchester. The theme was gender and sexuality so it included wallpapers from children’s rooms, bachelor pad décor, intricate patterns that closer inspection revealed to be anatomical and huge sketched body parts.

“I loved imagining these wallpapers in real rooms with people doing normal things around them. The Spice Girls wallpaper interpretation was fascinating. To have their stances discussed in relation to their ‘girl power’ attitude – their toes all pointed inwards demurely, undermining their brashness – just isn’t the kind of thing you’d necessarily notice as a child.

“A bonus point was the visitor’s book - it contained some wonderfully outraged comments which made me chuckle."

A photo of abstract painting
John Tunnard, Holiday, from the School Prints (1947). Lithograph on paper© Pallant House Gallery (purchased with support from Miss Anne Hodgson, 2007)
Simon Martin, Head of Curatorial Services, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester:

"There have been many treats for me during 2010, ranging from historic to contemporary shows. Those that stand out include the beautiful Hauser and Wirth Louise Bourgeois exhibition this autumn, the fascinating Henry Moore exhibition at which revealed a much darker side to this familiar sculptor’s imagery and the Peter Lanyon retrospective at .

"On a personal level, it was a great pleasure to introduce new audiences to the abstract paintings of John Tunnard and the current exhibition, Contemporary Eye: Crossovers."

Vicky Avery, Keeper of Applied Arts,
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

“Picking the best exhibition is a pleasant if somewhat difficult task given that this year we have been treated to a particularly rich diet of exhibitions.

"However, to my mind there are two exhibitions that deserve particular mention: Epic of the Persian Kings for its gripping story of heroism and valour, and visually-stunning material, and The Sacred Made Real for highlighting the close ties that existed between painters and sculptors during the Spanish Golden Age.

"It explained how the hyper-naturalistic sculptures were made to look so real, and thus their ability to move the soul, no less today than when they were first created.

A photo of a sign saying Pure Beauty
© John Baldessari
Sian Hunter Dodsworth, October Gallery, London:
John Baldessari at Tate Modern was laugh-out-loud funny, playful and full of life as well as a surprisingly thoughtful exhibition.

Samantha Belcher, Community Curator (Archaeology and the Arts),
The Bowes Museum, Durham:

"Journey Through the Afterlife: The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead at the British Museum. For me this exhibition was much anticipated. Artefacts on the Museum’s Facebook page in the months leading up to the opening provided a sneaky behind the scenes peak into the exhibition’s development. The exhibition and the objects themselves didn’t disappoint.

"Walking into the gallery itself was much like a journey into another world – a disorientating, dimly lit, curving corridor takes you to the foot of a staircase to enter the main exhibition. You can imagine the sensation of exploring a long forgotten tomb, with unseen treasures waiting to be discovered in the dark.

"The texts – hieroglyphics – are works of art in their own right. Each figures a pictorial symbol for a word or sound. The books were beautiful and in amazing condition. It was simply staggering to think how long ago this paper was made and written on.   

"Modern technology has also been used to enhance the displays. Video animations and close up shots of key sections of text help visitors to identify particular gods, words and spells. Even the occasional projection of a scuttling scarab beetle across the wall adds to the mood of mystery and exploration.

"Along with the audio visual element of the displays I am sure children would find it enjoyable and exciting. Well worth the £12 entry fee, but I would get there early or book in advance if you plan to visit as it’s very popular and attracts crowds of visitors."

A photo of a painting of a tree
Dexter Dalwood, Death of David Kelly (2008). Oil on canvas, private collection, Lake Forest, Illinois© Dexter Dalwood, courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Pic: Dave Morgan
Dominique Bignall, Deputy Curator (Displays and Interpretation), Royal Engineers Museum, Gillingham:

“Dexter Dalwood at Tate St Ives. Selected paintings of Dalwood’s demonstrated an uneasy symbiosis between art and history, highlighting the ability of the art world to contextualise and influence public memory of significant political events.

"Dalwood depicts events from the suicide of David Kelly to the demonstrations at Greenham Common; the beautiful colours and striking imagery perfectly complement the dramatic scenes which have unfolded.

"As a curator of a military history museum, Dexter Dalwood’s work as showcased at Tate St Ives is a poignant reminder of the power of imagery, over narrative, to memorialise historical events in the public memory.

Michael Terwey, Senior Exhibition Organiser,
National Media Museum, Bradford

"The exhibition of new and recently commissioned work by Martin Creed was the Fruitmarket’s contribution to Edinburgh’s summer festival season. Creed’s work is at once serious and playful, exploring ideas of repetition and order.

"The highlight was a stairway that was rigged to work like a keyboard and made a joyful cacophony as visitors ascended and descended. It’s rare that an exhibition makes me laugh out loud like this one did, and it was wonderful to see so many people having fun in an art gallery."

A photo of a circus leader in black and white
Serge Diaghilev© V&A images
Pauline Rushton, Curator of Costume and Textiles, (exhibition curator for Hitched: Wedding Clothes and Customs, Sudley House, runs until February 20 2011):

"I saw Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 at the back in October and it was wonderful – lots of beautiful ballet costumes from that period by the iconic French fashion designer Paul Poiret and the Russian artist Leon Bakst, two of my favourites.

"The most impressive part of the show, for me, was a huge gallery space given over to the music and images of Stravinsky's The Firebird. The role of the firebird was recreated by the principal dancer from the English National Ballet and projected as a giant moving silhouette onto the gallery walls, bringing the  music dramatically to life. A great exhibition."

Charlotte Keenan, Assistant Curator of Fine Art,
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool:

"Of all the exhibitions I saw this year, Robert Mapplethorpe in Eastbourne is the one that I enjoyed the most. I have been an admirer of Mapplethorpe’s photographs since I was a teenager and his work has continued to appeal to me ever since.

"Some of Mapplethorpe’s photographs have been described as indecent but this doesn’t detract from his stunning compositions in my opinion. It is the human focus of his work that I love the most though.

"I liked the exhibition for so many reasons, but mainly for giving me the opportunity to revisit favourite works and explore Mapplethorpe’s sculptures for the first time."

A photo of a sculpture of Jesus
The Sacred Made Real© Photo Imagen M.A.S. Courtesy of Museo de Bellas Artes de Granada
Andrea Byrne, artist

“Joseph Cornell and Karen Kilimnik at Spruth Magers were inspired by the Romantic Ballet era. The walls enveloping the works had been painted inky midnight blue and liberally dusted with glitter, hugging the darkness of the gallery space.

“Installations and paintings were revealed by dimmed spotlights highlighting works such as Cornell’s 'devotional' boxes to a once accomplished ballerina and Kilimnik’s discarded tutus concealing fabricated rats.

"The thematic thread, their shared yet separate passion of the ballet, woven together by the curator and embellished by the intimacy of the lighting and glitter, seduced the viewer with the romantic sublime and high camp. A decorously seductive glimpse into balletic fandom. 

"The Sacred Made Real at the National Gallery was a truly awesome presentation of selected Spanish artists of the 17th century, identifying with the physical suffering inflicted on Saints, Christ's Crucifixion and the violence of martyrdom.

"As I and many others silently gazed like mourners at a wake into the face of Gregorio Fernandez's "Dead Christ", I was profoundly affected by horror, empathy, guilt and grief; I saw wood bleed."

Michael Hall, artist


"Glasnost at Haunch of Venison in London was well hung and extremely good work that was in the same influential mould as Russian Constructivism. I was also hugely impressed by Shelagh Cluett at Chelsea Space, Kit Craig at Arcade Fine Arts and Pavel Büchler at Max Wigram Gallery.

"Tate Britain’s current displays of Gerard Byrne, Mike Nelson and Doug Fishbone were also a nice reminder of the Tate's importance as an institution.  I see a lot of shows and find it hard to pick a few when there have been so many good ones."

A photo of people playing keyboards
Liverpool Biennial
Rowena Hamilton, Curator of Craft and Design, :

“With our senses sharpened by gallery crawling fatigue and cold weather induced hunger, we stumbled upon Cristina Lucas's Touch and Go in a former factory of Europleasure International Ltd in Liverpool’s Chinatown.

“Outside in the late autumn sunshine, the derelict face of this huge warehouse bore the slogan Touch and Go in broken window panes. Inside, we found piles of shattered glass and Lucas’s video of local trade unionists and their families joyfully hurling rocks through the windows to spell out the message.

"This utopian vision of inter-generational protest as a positive community experience left us feeling strangely hopeful, albeit in a fatalistic sort of way. If nothing of any value comes out of this economic chaos, at least there’ll be more politically turned on people and potentially some good art too. The touch paper is lit…"

Judith Phillips, Archivist, The Bowes Museum:


"Restless Times: Art in Britain 1914-1945 at .This free exhibition is part of the Great British Art Debate project – I’d seen the first exhibition held in Sheffield earlier in the year and was really looking forward to this one. It didn’t disappoint – it was fantastic and I went back twice.

"The gallery space used semi-dividing walls which increased hanging space but also created separate areas to bring together pictures, objects and audio-visual presentations relating to embracing the modern, experiences of war, reaction to war, daily struggle and inner worlds. 

"The glamour and excitement of the early machine age gives way to the realisation of how destructive the same machines can be in war and how little mankind seems to have learned when the war experience is repeated and, in many ways, worsened.

"The desire to find (or rediscover) meaning in life leads many artists in the inter-war years to look closely at the countryside or peaceful domestic life, but the calming and regenerative effects of nature are contrasted by a recognition of how, for many, life is an everyday struggle with poor living and working conditions.

"Although I knew works by many of the featured artists – Nash, Ravilious, Wyndham Lewis, Nevinson, Moore, Bawden, Bell – it was marvellous seeing so many 'new' works."
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